Denodo Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer Ravi Shankar discusses why data virtualization in healthcare may be key to pro-actively manage future pandemics.
By Ravi Shankar
The current hysteria surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for effective data management in the healthcare industry.
Outbreaks are even harder to manage or overcome when there is lack of pertinent information made available to doctors and medical workers at the point of care.
Public health organizations also need accurate information in a timely manner so that decisions can be made quickly to contain outbreaks. Similarly, broader government agencies need information so that they can help mitigate trade shortcomings and strengthen supply chains.
Currently, patient data is stored in different systems. Within a medical facility, data belonging to the same patient may be stored in Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems, clinic computers, medical record offices, and so on.
In addition, many modern healthcare organizations, especially private ones, store some of their data in servers on their premises, some in the cloud, and also in facilities owned by cloud service providers.
Then there is geographically specific data, which is crucial for bringing virus spread under control.
Medical and emergency workers need information such as the locations of virus spread flashpoints and epicentres, availability of resources in different area hospitals, and cluster locations and contact tracing.
Unfortunately, geo-specific data is currently often stored in silos by local authorities, such as municipal offices and provincial or state government offices. Calling up and integrating the data takes resources and time – things that we are often short of in an outbreak scenario.
These obstacles can inhibit quick decision making and fast action required to control virus spread. The challenges highlight the need for integrated information across the healthcare sector.
Integrated information that can be delivered to the right people – emergency respondents, healthcare workers, government planners – at a time when it matters most is crucial when battling an outbreak.
Useful information is accurate information that arrives in time.
Right when a patient arrives at a hospital’s emergency department, medical workers need information such as the patient’s medical history and drug allergies. They need access to patient data for diagnosis and treatment decisions (as well as research to learn more about the virus).
Healthcare organizations need timely information to deploy workers, allocate and plan medical supplies and other resources. Especially in a large-scale pandemic, they need the information to plan for and manage large number of patients and suspect cases.
At the government level, timely information allows officials to manage the complexity of contact tracing. Government officials also need the information to make fast decisions, such as the need for crowd control and actions to allay fear and prevent panic amongst the general public.
The World Health Organization established the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre Network (EOC-NET) in 2012. The intention was to identify and promote best practices and standards for EOCs and provide support to EOC capacity building in member countries.
Currently, close to 40 countries in the Asia Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, have made considerable progress in strengthening their emergency preparedness and response based on WHO guidelines and information shared among networks.
These countries now have effective EOCs, equipped with rapid response teams and field epidemiology training programs. Many have event-based surveillance systems for early identification and monitoring.
China’s action to share the virus sequence with other countries is also a testament to the success of EOC-NET.
Key to the success of the EOC-NET is the capability to integrate information across data silos, and the possibility to deliver it to the point of decision making real time. Data virtualization may just be the solution that enables it all.
Data virtualization stitches data from disparate sources – regardless of the location of data source, the format of the data, or the latency with which the data becomes available – together and delivers it in real time and in the format required by each individual data consumer.
In our current fight against the pandemic, this means useful information delivered to the healthcare worker, the public official, the emergency response team member, or even the analyst who is helping to plan the next step in battling virus spread. Also, data virtualization technology offers the user of the data an unified view of the source data without stopping to replicate the data for curation or transformation.
Data virtualization can deliver an integrated, 360-degree view on a patient’s health, including information on recent hospital visits, drug allergies, test results, and any guide or treatment protocol that doctors have noted, directly to the relevant medical workers.
Even in medical research, data virtualization can be tapped on to deliver details of each confirmed case, straight from the hospitals as patients are being treated, directly to researchers. This minimizes delay in data collection, curating, and delivery, saving precious time for researchers to find a cure.
As we to strive to contain the spread of the coronavirus, make every effort to the save the lives of those infected and brace ourselves for the economic and social impact that the current pandemic brings, we are also learning a lesson on how we can best leverage data to prevent and fight off the next one.
Data integration and data virtualization may not be direct remedies for managing virus outbreaks. However, they do help agencies rapidly collate integrated views of time-critical information; allowing decision makers be best-equipped to make the most informed decisions under duress.