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CCube Solutions’ Vijay Magon on creating a single true source of patient information

CCube Solutions’ managing director Vijay Magon highlights the challenges around unstructured data and how technology can help transform healthcare records management.

The need for digital

The growing adoption of electronic patient record (EPR) systems is an important first step to improving access to health information, but far too many healthcare organisations believe that EPRs are all that’s necessary for digital-enabled clinical transformation.

While the shift from paper to digital has been ongoing for years, but embracing it is no longer an option – it has become an essential strategy.

Productivity, teamwork, and the patient experience are constantly at the top of every healthcare organisation’s priority list, but our research indicates that a high proportion of healthcare organisations believe that in the last 12 months, their hospital has been impacted by incorrect or missing data due to paper processes.

The problem: unstructured data

If we explore the landscape of patient information for context, we see two large groups: unstructured and structured.

As much as 80 percent of the information that exists on a patient is unstructured. It is largely found in paper form and electronic files and lives outside of the electronic patient record in a number of siloed systems and repositories. That means that this data is locked within the documents or files; and it is found in huge volumes, leading to enormous amounts of paper sitting in storage.

This creates additional problems in itself. Storing huge volumes of paper means that huge amounts of storage space is taken up; paper has to be retained, and in some cases, it has to be retained for a long period of time. Alongside taking up premium storage space, there are issues around retrieval and access, with time and costs associated with going into these paper libraries and finding a particular patient record by hand. Filing and refiling also leads to recurring costs, so the costs associated with storing this unstructured paper information will rise over time – this is the cost of doing nothing!

Then there are the risks with holding physical records; it is easier to lose a paper file than it is an electronic one, and it is also more difficult to restrict and audit access.

Ultimately, dependency on paper creates and exacerbates issues within care pathways and workflows. This unstructured information needs to be digitised and transported electronically, rather than relying on trolleys laden with paper.

Having said that, it’s not just about paper. Some 65 to 70 percent of new patient information is actually created electronically through a variety of IT systems in use within an organisation: EPR, clinical portals, primary and acute care systems, specialty systems, laboratory information management systems. In these systems, we might find Word documents, PDF files, photography, electronic forms, emails, spreadsheets.

Although it is electronic and not causing the same physical problems as paper records, the content within these files is still largely unstructured. It is disconnected from other sources of information and difficult and time-consuming for clinicians to find what they need – document silos.

Structured data: the solution

Structured information is data that sits within system databases and can be managed and searched through those databases. As it is accessible and organised, it can be used to deliver patient care in pathways and in patient administration systems, providing clinical decision support.

Structured data is absolutely necessary for digitally-enabled clinical transformation, so we need something that can capture the unstructured information described above and manage it – turning it into structured information that can be more useful.

Electronic document & records management software (EDRMS) technology has been around for nearly 50 years. Originally developed to help manage paper records, the technology has now developed so that it can assist with multimedia electronic files too. Unstructured information can be inputted into the EDRMS where it will be managed and stored. The technology can be configured to manage the files that are captured over a long period of time, supporting work around retention and destruction policies.

Once set up, the EDRMS provides a clinical view of the whole record contained within the platform, supporting clinicians by providing them with access to all the information that is available on a patient.

The model can be easily extended, too. There might be information sitting outside the EDRMS – for example, information contained on file shares. The technology can be integrated with the other systems such as the EPR or clinical portals to provide access to this.

Interfaces can be set up to ensure that the EDRMS provides a multi-document repository that can be accessed through some of the IT systems. The interfacing work has already been done; so a user can sit in a clinical portal or an EPR, select a patient through clicking a button, and instantly view what is held in the EDRMS without having to log in and out of applications.

That’s the goal we should all be aiming for – we need to create a true single source of patient information. It doesn’t mean that everything needs to be contained in one system – it means that information can be held on one system and fed to where it is needed, supporting data flow and staff and patient experience.

For more information on how CCube Solutions can help with EDRMS technology, please click here.