In the U.S. and overseas, data analytics technology and processes generally have developed at light speed. But in healthcare information, it’s hard to find basic infrastructure such as data repositories and data format standards.

What’s happening with healthcare data infrastructure in federal agencies? That was the question asked at the October 15th meeting of the National Capital Area chapter of HIMSS. I attended the discussion, “Strategies for Building Digital Government Communicating Healthcare Information” at the Key Bridge Marriot in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Not Enough Standardization and Infrastructure

Representatives of four government healthcare agencies and two private companies participated. They described current medical data management trends in their own backyards. Each speaker described his or her organization’s approach to healthcare data management and the obstacles they face.

Dr. Karen Guice of the Military Health System described how her agency uses digital communications to distribute healthcare information to patient and healthcare provider communities.

Mr. Bakul Patel of the FDA and Mr. William Trefzger of DHS agreed that to be really useful, healthcare data infrastructure must overcome basic challenges, such as:

  • Lack of data standardization. Generating and handling the same types of information for each patient improves data consistency and quality. Without standards, data coverage is hit-or-miss, and its usefulness sinks like a rock.
  • Uneven access to data. Managed data must be easy for patient and provider communities to find and download. Otherwise patients lose interest in their own healthcare.
  • No centralized data stores. Healthcare providers and potential patients must be able to collect relevant, up-to-date information quickly and easily. Chasing down information from different sources drives up the cost, effort and aggravation of using data.
  • No data interoperability. Making data more accessible and interoperable depends on using data in formats that are easily found, gathered and analyzed by most patients and healthcare providers. Formal standards would make data more consistent and interoperability much easier.
  • Diverse data structure. Increasingly, useful information includes unstructured (non-database) healthcare data. Useful data management software and processes must be able to handle data in unstructured as well as traditional formats.

Mr. Oskain Kouzouian of reported that his agency uses modern data management methods to improve patient engagement and reduce costs of ongoing programs. But, the biggest obstacles to these improvements include:

  • Choosing the metrics that are most relevant and helpful to different groups of patients and providers.
  • Interpreting which values of these metrics are relevant and significant to patients in specific situations.

All of these challenges also apply to finding, collecting and interpreting data in the new field of medical tourism and travel.

Medical Travel Data Infrastructure in Early Innings

As in any new industry, data in the medical travel field is often hard to find, interpret and judge its quality. All of the healthcare infrastructure challenges mentioned previously apply to people seeking and interpreting medical travel information:

  • Data standardization. Medical travel data infrastructure is immature but has made a good start. When it comes to personal health information, medical travel data follows international standards of the HL7 information model.
  • Data accessibility. Potential patients find medical travel data through their own Internet research. The amount, variety and quality of information depends entirely on each individual’s research capabilities.
  • Scattered data sources. There are no centralized medical travel data repositories for overseas healthcare providers and facilities. Joint Commission International is one of the few organizations that accredits hospitals world-wide. Its information is readily available.
  • Data interoperability. Have there been no attempts to standardize formats of medical travel-related content.
  • Diverse data structure. It is possible to rent cloud-based analytics packages that handle high-volume, high-speed analysis of structured and unstructured data. But currently, there are no platforms designed to search though and analyze specialized medical travel information.

Have questions about the panel discussion? Contact the NCA chapter of HIMSS.


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Agha Ahmed is a seasoned entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in healthcare IT. As the Managing Partner at Pikemen Group, a global healthcare IT organization, he closely monitors industry drivers and the benefits of IT solutions. With a focus on cost-effective, high-performance technology, Agha delivers solutions for rapid business growth. He possesses over 15 years of hands-on experience in data integration and system engineering strategies. Agha holds an MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School, combining technical and business expertise. His track record showcases his leadership and ability to navigate the complex healthcare IT landscape with innovation and efficiency.

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