3 ways real-time data visualizations will transform the healthcare industry

Imagine that doctors, nurses, and healthcare administrators could save up $300 billion annually while saving more lives and increasing productivity. Sounds far-fetched, right?

This win-win-win situation is possible through big data integration, which is fueling a new era in an industry rife with complex data.

To be fair, healthcare and big data have typically played nicely with each other. But the rapid expansion of accessible and consumable data — we're looking at 2.5 quintillion bytes per day — means it's no longer enough to fall back on sluggish methods of collecting and processing patient information. We must instead parse data while it's in motion, providing people with real-time insights in a user-friendly interface.

This stands in sharp contrast to the slow, inefficient "report factory" model that healthcare organizations have employed with electronic health records for generations. This sluggish process sees medical personnel request data from their information technology department, wait for IT to produce a report, review the report, come to a conclusion, and hope the data is still relevant. It's hardly self-service, and it doesn't allow doctors, nurses, or administrators to work efficiently on behalf of patients.

Fortunately, we have business intelligence systems that can bypass the middleman, allowing us to connect with data warehouses in real time. IT departments no longer need to serve as data gatekeepers; they can focus on storing, managing, and securing accurate EHRs to help medical professionals make informed decisions.

Patients can get in on the action thanks to third-party health applications such as Pager, a mobile app that connects patients directly with nurses. Nurses can use the app to provide consultations and coordinate vaccinations or prescription delivery. These apps streamline data to a single source, empowering patients and medical professionals alike. About 66 percent of consumers are ready to embrace this sort of modern records system, according to a recent survey.

Healthcare administrators interested in staying relevant in a fast-changing marketplace must prepare to make the move to real-time data visualization soon to keep pace with patient demands.

Streamlining medicine through big data
Predictive analytics based on big data is a rapidly growing field — it's expected to be a more than $9 billion industry by 2020. This shift includes a natural increase in response efficiency, real-time reporting, and at-risk patient identification.

But how can medical professionals use this data in a practical setting? A healthcare provider might map areas with more emergency calls and then pragmatically position ambulances to decrease response times. The same provider could allow anyone with access to its real-time data platform to run customizable reports using accurate data without having to place a request with an IT department.

At-risk patients also benefit from real-time data visualization. Physicians, nurses, and other professionals can use data points to chart incidents of certain diseases, potentially finding correlations between demographics or geographic regions and health problems. A recent report indicates that about 20 percent of Americans owe their lives to streaming patient data.

Although numerous providers offer data visualization services, Microsoft's Power BI is one of my favorites. Power BI collects and analyzes electronic health records. It then pairs that information with open data sources to allow users to visualize data and explore service area patterns.

For example, the Foundation Trust used Power BI to evaluate the cost and efficacy of drugs during treatment processes. The organization paired regional weather information with its own data to determine how inclement weather affects the frequency of respiratory ailments. The group has collaborated with local hospitals to compare data through Power BI to identify best practices in prescribing medications.

How real-time data visualization can push healthcare forward
Despite repeated warnings that healthcare is operating with one foot in the past, it can be tough to change minds. It's critical for healthcare professionals to investigate and understand the incredible possibilities real-time data visualization presents:

1. Expanded data sets through collaboration
Sharing data — while still complying with privacy and other standards, naturally — allows organizations to learn from larger data sets, increasing accuracy and making it easier to spot trends. Software like Power BI brings this data together on one platform. A network of doctors can share EHR data or metrics to better predict when flu season will hit and how severe strains might be.

Oslo University Hospital is applying this technology to healthcare management. In one case, the hospital collected radiology data from department systems and into a cloud-based database. Researchers were then able to use this database for real-time education and collaboration. The system sped up analyses to deliver actionable information, helping users collaborate with researchers beyond their walls. It also avoided the potentially hefty capital and operating costs of traditional business intelligence solutions.

2. Enhanced reporting capabilities
Real-time visualization puts data at the fingertips of doctors, nurses, and administrators. They can draw actionable insights on the spot in easily digestible formats.

Helse Vest operates more than 50 healthcare facilities spread across Norway. The organization needed to meet reporting requirements for a government-mandated program, so Helse Vest used Power BI to quickly merge data from multiple hospitals to analyze surgery trends and other medical information. The process took less than a day rather than the several weeks that are typically necessary for such a massive undertaking.

3. Improved response times
Speed is a vital element of healthcare — the difference between life and death can hinge on mere seconds. For example, the chance of surviving a heart attacks drops by 10 percent with each passing minute. Emergency responders routinely race against the clock.

Whether a healthcare provider is dealing with a flu outbreak or trying to decrease emergency response times, real-time data visualizations allow team members to view metrics and discover opportunities to improve outcomes. Whether they're positioning vehicles based on past responses or charting an outbreak as it spreads, accurate data is essential. Updating information as it happens is even more crucial.

To remain competitive in an industry fueled by data, powerful tools are necessary. These sophisticated solutions can shorten response times, improve reporting capabilities, and spur collaboration both within healthcare systems and beyond organizational borders. The advent of real-time data visualization interfaces can help doctors, nurses, and administrators achieve success on myriad levels, rising to the challenges of 21st century medicine.

Wendy Schott is chief marketing officer at PubNub, a groundbreaking data stream network delivering real-time APIs for developers. PubNub enables customers to build, scale, and manage real-time functionality for web and mobile applications and IoT devices. A self-described tech geek, Wendy has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and selling infrastructure and enterprise software.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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