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As we push into the age of modern healthcare delivery, Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems have become a focal point. EHR adoption has nearly doubled over the past decade, from 46% in 2009 to 88% in 2019. The data contained in these EHRs fuels and is vital to the healthcare business, and it must be protected. Legacy data backup solutions are stretched by the exploding growth of data in EHRs and the need to share information across providers, all against a fierce backdrop of intensifying malware activity.

On one hand, lengthy backup and recovery times compromise patient data availability, and on the other, a lack of proper security leaves EHR data vulnerable to ransomware and other attacks. If that wasn’t enough, legacy backup systems are complex, have a high total cost of ownership, and require significant management time, often requiring a dedicated and costly team.

This is why data consolidation and a modern approach to data management across health care organizations are critical for driving operational efficiency, protecting critical patient data and, most importantly, delivering optimal health outcomes. The benefits of consolidated data include:

  1. Scaling the EHR System

The EHR system is the single largest asset and purchase health systems make, in many cases costing them hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars — the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department is paying health information and EHR provider Cerner over $1.5 billion per year for 10 years. Deploying an EHR system without also implementing a modern approach to managing the data it contains is akin to purchasing a multi-million dollar mansion and equipping it with an antiquated security system and no homeowner’s insurance.

When it comes to protecting the treasure troves of data that EHR systems hold, health systems are finally coming out of the dark ages. To effectively scale, the single biggest factor to consider is how the data is handled when it is originally ingested by the EHR system. The traditional method involves essentially taking a snapshot of the data, creating an index, and then backing it up.

A modern approach to data management is similar to how Google expertly handles web searches, specifically how it ingests the search, quickly crawls through millions of files and then returns the results via a web browser. When managing healthcare data, this requires entering it in its native format so the system knows exactly the type of data, such as an MRI or a CT image. With this approach, once the data is stored in the data management platform, clinicians have greater control over who has access to it, how it’s shared, and how to secure it, whether it’s a 40 TB cache for a major health system or a single 500 MB image.

  1. Curating Data to Fight Covid-19 and Other Diseases

With modern data management systems and approaches in place, there are a wealth of ways physicians and researchers can put the data to better use to improve health outcomes. For example, organizations can search for and gather data using parameters such as “all MRIs from this specific facility and patients with these symptoms or conditions” and can then save that data all in one location. The data can then be easily shared, allowing for fast and efficient collaborative research.

In the past six months, modern data management has enabled researchers to curate data on Covid-19 patients to obtain a clearer picture and deeper understanding of the disease. This improved access to data has given them a far better understanding of how the lack of oxygenation caused by this respiratory illness affects other organs beyond the lungs, which has helped physicians better treat patients as cases have mounted.

The alternative to this new approach is to use manual processes, which entails conducting exhaustive searches to identify the appropriate data, make a copy of it, and store it in yet another data silo. By automating these processes, healthcare organizations can dramatically improve the scale and quality of both data analysis and the insights that it helps deliver.

  1. Improving Cybersecurity in Healthcare

As the volumes of private and/or personal data have exploded in the healthcare industry, the opportunities and instances in which this data has been compromised have also dramatically increased. It is often not a question of “if” a healthcare organization’s data will be compromised, it is a question of how quickly the organization can recover.

By ingesting data at the bit level, healthcare organizations can see and understand exactly what it’s supposed to look like. This allows clinicians to actively manage and protect the data by crawling through it to see if anything has changed since the last time it was accessed and notice anomalies that are potentially malicious.

This is important because the speed at which a health system can recover is directly proportional to the losses and risks the organization could potentially face. Savvy organizations utilize modern data backups to identify backdoor intrusions, while companies wedded to legacy data management solutions are still examining copies of indexes that don’t give it a true picture of its security posture and what’s really going on with its valuable data assets.

EHR systems are a way of life for healthcare systems and investment that touches every aspect of care delivery. Consequently, modern approaches to EHR data management are integral to the success of these organizations. The organizations that adopt them as a foundation of their technology infrastructure and business will be the ones that are most responsive to their patients and to the rapidly changing dynamics of the healthcare industry.

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images

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