Jan 19 2024

How Health Systems Can Connect Clinicians to Data More Quickly

Healthcare organizations invest in tools that improve provider access to critical data.

As a leader in his health system’s push to leverage technology to improve clinical care, Dr. Jeetu Nanda spends much of his time focused on matters related to data.

“The goal is to have all of our decisions be data-driven,” says Nanda, chief medical information officer at Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health. The organization relies on Epic for its electronic health record system.

“The key to everything is interoperability,” Nanda says, noting that some computer systems are better than others at exchanging and using information. “With Epic, we’re lucky because it lets us bring data from other facilities directly into the patient’s chart.”

This instant access to a patient’s health history is made possible with Epic’s Care Everywhere feature, but it also depends on the technologies that healthcare organizations use for data storage and management. Cone Health has long relied on NetApp for this purpose, Nanda says, and in 2021, the organization turned to two of the company’s tools — Azure NetApp Files and Cloud Volumes ONTAP — to move its Epic workloads to Microsoft Azure.

Previously, he says, Cone Health had housed patient data exclusively in its on-premises servers. That worked well — until it embraced digital transformation and the volume of data increased exponentially.

“There are a lot of benefits to the cloud, but one of the biggest is space,” Nanda says. “On Azure, you don’t care how much data comes in; there’s always room for more.”

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Disaster security and data recovery are also more reliable in the cloud, he adds. “With companies such as Microsoft, their security systems are robust. We contract with them because we know that they’re going to do it right.”

Today, with Epic in the cloud, Cone Health is seeing significant cost savings associated with its reduction in on-premises infrastructure. The IT team spends less time on rote tasks such as server maintenance and networking, instead devoting more resources to technological innovation.

For example, the organization is now using software enhanced with artificial intelligence and machine learning to read digital films and automatically forward findings to clinicians.

“It allows doctors to say during an appointment, ‘OK, this is everything we have, and this is what we’re going to do next,’” Nanda says. “It’s putting all the information that physicians need at their fingertips.”

Directing Data Where and When It’s Needed

Healthcare deals with valuable clinical data, and one of the biggest challenges for health systems lies in delivering it to providers where and when they need it. The solution entails a strategy similar to Nanda’s at Cone Health: Start with a proven EHR system, then look to other technologies to help clinicians get the most out of it.

“It’s about having the right data at the right place at the right time,” says Mutaz Shegewi, research director in IDC’s Provider IT Transformation Strategies division.

As data repositories, EHRs “can be very loaded systems with tons of records and information,” he says. “But clinicians only need what’s most pertinent to their patients, and they need to be able to get to it quickly.”

The good news, Shegewi continues, is that clinical analytics and generative AI tools are now being integrated into EHRs to make them more useful at the point of care. He also highlights the cloud as a “game changer” for EHR technology, “both because it allows for scalable storage and because it’s critical to accessing data efficiently and securely.”

One healthcare leader who knows that well is LCMC Health Interim CTO Austin Park.

The New Orleans-based organization runs its Epic system on Cisco and NetApp’s FlexPod data center infrastructure. The technology combines NetApp storage with Cisco servers and switches to streamline data management across edge, core and hybrid cloud environments.

“We’re trying to minimize latency as much as possible,” Park says. “In terms of bringing data to the bedside, we’re really emphasizing speed.”

To ensure that clinicians can access patient information even if LCMC Health’s servers were to go down, the organization uses NetApp’s SnapMirror software to replicate data on-premises and in the cloud.

To allow providers to interface with the health system’s EHR on their preferred devices, Park’s team designed its database architecture to support a wide range of data transfer protocols.

“Physicians want a workflow that will follow them wherever they go,” Park says. “With this infrastructure, that’s what they have: a system that they know will be there, no matter what.”

LEARN MORE: What are modern data platforms, and how can they boost healthcare agility?

Making Data ‘Easy, Pleasant and Curated’

Ensuring that clinical workflows meet provider expectations is also a priority at Tucson, Ariz.-based TMC Health. The organization uses Citrix DaaS, a Desktop as a Service solution, to display Epic on workstations across the enterprise, says Senior Vice President and CIO Dr. Joshua Lee. Its EHR data is housed in a solution from Pure Storage.

“Clinical data is like a fire hose,” Lee adds. “It’s impossible to drink from it.”

As a leader in healthcare IT who has worked with data for more than 20 years, his job is to identify ways to make that hose more like a water fountain.

“You want it to be easy, pleasant and curated to allow physicians and nurses at the bedside to use the most important information, served at the perfect temperature,” he says.

An internal medicine physician by training, Lee still has an active clinical practice. When he works with patients, he says, he leans on the EHR to get what he calls passive and active information: The passive side includes details such as the patient’s current health issues and whom he or she normally sees for care, while active information is obtained through technologies such as predictive analytics.

One example of the latter, Lee says, involves an algorithm that the EHR uses to identify patients at risk of serious infection. “You get an alert that says, ‘Hey, pay attention! This person is headed for trouble, and here are five things that you can do to avert disaster.’”

This function saves lives in part because it’s so straightforward, Lee adds.

“It couldn’t be any clearer,” he says. “It just pops up right on the screen.”

UP NEXT: Big Data, analytics, AI and more improve outcomes through preventive care.

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