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2021: Data is the New Health Care Currency

Karyn Mullins Big Thinks December 2020 Predictions for 2021

Wearable devices, the Internet of Medical Things devices (IoMT), even Electronic Health Records (EHR) themselves all produce and generate large amounts of data.  As we move into 2021, the way we use this data will continue to drive innovation in healthcare.  Looking into the future, healthcare is poised to become significantly more data-driven, allowing for more specific and more successful patient care at scale.

In the past, gathering large amounts of healthcare data has been a costly and time-consuming effort. As technology improves and innovations in healthcare data collection become more straightforward, the ability to utilize that data in critical ways improves.

The Digitization of the World, an IDC whitepaper, estimates a CAGR of 36% for healthcare data by 2025, making it the fastest growing sector by some distance.  This whitepaper also predicts that by 2025, there will be more than 150 billion connected devices across the globe.  Most of these connected devices will be creating data in real-time.

There will be Higher Integrity Data used in patient care.

Analyzing data from different patients allows doctors to look for and find patterns in the data.  This data will enable healthcare organizations to diagnose better and recommend treatments, empower patients to play a larger role in their care, and deliver better, more proactive outcomes.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are effective and powerful tools that allow healthcare providers to diagnose critical diseases more quickly.  For example, AI based algorithms are being developed to more accurately screen CTs for lung cancer.  Google researchers have found that their algorithm can be even more accurate than radiologists in identifying malignant growths in scans.  Data from CT scans is the key ingredient fueling the AI used in that algorithm.  As a matter of fact, algorithms are only as effective as the data they are fed.  As more data is gathered, the algorithm will continue to increase in accuracy.

In another example, Sanford Health has partnered with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine’s Population Health Department to understand the impact of patients with chronic diseases not managing their own care.  They developed an algorithm that can predict diabetic patients’ risk of unplanned medical visits.  Using machine learning, this algorithm can predict with nearly 80% certainty the likelihood that a given diabetic patient will incur a costly and unwanted unplanned visit.  The data used to feed this algorithm will help these diabetic patients more proactively manage their care and cut down on both their own expenses as well as the potential expenses to the healthcare system. 

There will be more Healthcare Data Security Breaches in 2021.

The use of data can power better outcomes, but a recent study by Black Book Market Research reveals the healthcare industry is likely to see triple the number of data breaches in 2021.  

Healthcare data comes with its own unique security and privacy issues.  Strict regulatory risks exist for healthcare data that are not necessarily in place for other types of data.  These include HIPAA as well as other regulatory requirements such as GDPR.  Since healthcare data includes some of a person’s most sensitive data, organizations are taxed with ensuring their data is secure, accessible only to the appropriate and authorized persons, and is used only as needed and communicated. 

To highlight the critical nature of keeping this data secure, a 2019 report from Trustwave found that a data record containing healthcare data is valued up to $250 a record on the black market.  The next highest value record, a payment card, is valued at $5.40. 

Healthcare organizations face many challenges in generating, collecting, and keeping this data secure and private.  Key challenges include the shortage of cybersecurity talent with any sort of healthcare knowledge, an increased work from home scenario increasing the likelihood of data breaches, and lack of funding designated for cybersecurity and privacy.

The Trend of Monetizing Healthcare Data will continue into 2021.

Many traditional healthcare organizations have realized the value of the data already in their reach.  Organizations can monetize this data by partnering with digital health innovators.  Innovators need access to this actual, real-world historical data to validate their solutions and move their businesses forward. Consumers may be the ultimate winners as the innovations developed with the use of their data will lead to a higher quality of care at hopefully a lower cost.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and focus on proactive care and value-based reimbursements, data becomes the new currency.

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