Data is the 'lifeblood' of the digital health economy: Sanford CIO on how to keep up

Digital technologies and data analytics have become vital to health systems aiming to run efficient organizations, reduce burnout and provide excellent patient care.


But how do health systems collect and organize data? What investments are necessary to prepare for digital transformation in the future? Brad Reimer, CIO of Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., joined the "Becker's Digital Health + IT" podcast to talk about these issues.

"There's a lot evolving in healthcare right now, from AI to the Internet of Medical Things, to virtual health and consumerized healthcare," said Mr. Reimer. "There's so many buzzwords out there, but the largest opportunity and common currency across all of those is data. It's probably also one of the more challenging areas to address, and we're trying to figure out how to prepare the data ecosystem."

There is an abundance of data health systems compile every day, including clinical data from EHRs and operational workflow data. Health systems are also compiling information about disease spread, quality statistics, consumer preferences and more. With the field moving so rapidly, it can be easy to fall behind without the right strategy, and it won't get easier in the coming years.

"We're looking at, what will the data ecosystem need to look like for this next generation of healthcare solutions? What is the amount and importance of data that's being created and consumed outside the EHRs? It's growing exponentially, as everybody knows, and all those systems, in a utopian world, need to work in concert with each other to really gain the benefits of improved patient quality care, the patient experience and provider experience," said Mr. Reimer.

CIOs are working with other strategic leaders within the organization to figure out what they need to develop the right infrastructure for data governance, de-identification of data, and interoperability as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. The infrastructure requires a large investment beyond just the EHR system, to include data storage and management, and applications that will truly make a difference for organizational efficiency and patient care.

"Data is the lifeblood of the future of digital health in my mind, and providing a modern and adaptable data ecosystem is incredibly important," said Mr. Reimer. "It's both a huge need as well as opportunity for organizations to create partnerships with third-party vendors. If we can crack the nut on how we build a modern data ecosystem for healthcare, I think it will truly revolutionize healthcare for our patients and communities."

Mr. Reimer said many health systems need more data literacy and data technology literacy to really create the ideal data ecosystem. Sanford plans to invest in programs to develop data and technology literacy in the next year so the team's expertise in the area, and artificial intelligence, is solid before moving forward.

Using the cloud at scale is another big area Mr. Reimer and his team are focused on right now.

"Thinking about leveraging the cloud at scale for some of these larger data systems is going to be a critical skill set that we develop," said Mr. Reimer.

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