Harnessing big data with information governance

February 17, 2017
By Ann Meehan

What is big data? The term is used frequently in articles, e-newsletters and presentations. But what does it really mean? According to IBM, “Big data is being generated by everything around us at all times. Every digital process and social media exchange produces it. Systems, sensors and mobile devices transmit it. Big data is arriving from multiple sources at an alarming velocity, volume and variety.” And big data is projected to grow.

According to statistics reported in Computerworld, by 2020:

• There will be approximately 40 zettabytes of data, which is equivalent to 40 trillion gigabytes and is approximately 5,200 gigabytes per person.
• Only about 33 percent of data will contain information that might be valuable.
• Only 15 percent of data will be stored in the cloud. Most data will be created by machines. While these definitions and statistics address all types of data across all industries, big data is especially relevant to health care.

Health care is an industry with large amounts of data that make it particularly vulnerable, requiring an urgent need to ensure data accuracy and trustworthiness. This data ultimately becomes information that is necessary to provide quality patient care and making solid business decisions. The data must not only be secure and accurate, it must be meaningful, making analytics and information governance key to realizing the benefits of all this data. Having an information governance (IG) plan in place provides the formal structure around all types of data and information produced by various mechanisms and technologies, and maintained on various media, ensuring it is reliable and meets all of its diverse needs within a health care organization.

In addition to the traditional legal health record, and financial transactions — including charges, payments and costs — data comes from various mobile devices, wearables and outside sources. One source of outside data is patient generated health data (PGHD). PGHD is a term that describes health-related data that is gathered by patients and/or their family members to help monitor and address health concerns. PGHD can come from many sources and technologies. According to HealthIT.gov, health history, treatment history, biometric data, symptoms and lifestyle choices are examples of these sources. PGHD are distinct from data generated in clinical settings and through encounters with providers in two important ways:

• Patients, not providers, are primarily responsible for capturing or recording the data.
• Patients decide how to share or distribute the data to health care providers and others. The Internet of Things (IoT) is another important concept in understanding how data is being generated. It refers to the network of devices that are embedded with electronics and network connectivity, making the collection and exchange of data fluid. The IoT will allow a broader range of health care monitoring and care by allowing patients to communicate health information via these technologies. Examples include blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, activity trackers and even motion sensors in the homes of seniors.

The social determinants of health (SDOH) are further critical components of data generation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the social determinants of health are the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. By understanding the SDOH, professionals can help predict and treat health concerns of their patients. The CDC breaks SDOH into conditions, and environment and settings. Conditions can include social, economic and physical states. Environments and settings include data about places such as school, church, the workplace and one’s neighborhood.

There are many sources for SDOH, including chronic disease indicators, community health status indicators, health indicators warehouse, among others. SDOH can be captured simply through employer annual health screening surveys that ask questions about lifestyle practices such as the use of seat belts and sunscreen, amount of sleep, smoking and alcohol use, etc. All of these types of data come to us in many different ways and formats. To ensure that data can be converted to information for making critical patient care decisions, it must be trustworthy and governed in a consistent way.

Information governance will guarantee that data inventories, data definitions, data mapping, data storage, data protection, data quality and data monitoring are ingrained in the culture of the health care organization. IG ensures a more agile organization that can quickly accept data from the many resources available today and in the future. IG will ensure that the resulting information is trustworthy for making good patient care and business decisions.

About the author: Ann Meehan, RHIA, is the director, Information Governance, AHIMA IGAdvisors.