Collaboration is the New Frontier for Healthcare
Data sharing is driving the next evolution in research and patient care.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous challenges to our healthcare system — in turn, these challenges drove providers to join together to develop powerful new solutions. Hospital systems banded together to pool resources, unlock new efficiencies, and find a common path through the crisis. “We’re all talking to each other in a way that’s unprecedented,” said one Boston-area hospital CEO.
Nowhere is that spirit of collaboration more important than when it comes to data. The global spread of COVID-19 left healthcare teams with little local data to guide their responses. Data-sharing was the only option: providers shared information and insights at both regional, national, and global levels, supporting the rapid development of life-saving treatments, vaccines, and diagnostic tools.
The World Health Organization created a clinical data-sharing hub to guide public health responses. Governmental agencies provided open data resources and computational support. And across the United States, providers teamed up to save lives: Michigan hospitals launched a joint tracking database within a month of their first COVID-19 case while Johns Hopkins created a powerful data dashboard to track COVID cases and outcomes both nationally and globally.
As we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, it’s clear that there’s no value in going back to data silos: for both healthcare providers and researchers, data partnerships are here to stay. To accelerate innovation, though, we can’t take collaboration for granted. It’s time to build on the lessons of the pandemic — and create new infrastructures to support smarter, more streamlined, and more scalable data-sharing across the entire healthcare ecosystem.
The Next Evolution
The way healthcare professionals and researchers within healthcare ecosystems create, store, and share data is constantly evolving. Not long ago, many physicians relied on crumpled paper notes and faxed records. Digitization first took root at the level of individual practices, enabling referrals and prescriptions to be sent at the click of a button, and helping physicians within a single practice or network to share electronic health records (EHR).
More recently, there have been initiatives underway to promote the interoperability of data across regional health systems. Today, doctors in specific systems can instantly access other EHR records from other local healthcare systems — thus, if a patient had a radiograph at another hospital, the physician can review those images without duplicating tests, re-radiating the patient, or delaying patient care.
Now, we’re embarking on the next evolution in healthcare data. By de-identifying patient records, and creating secure environments where data can be explored without being exported, it’s now possible to enable health data to be shared at scale without compromising privacy or security. This vital breakthrough enables stakeholders to maximize the value inherent in their medical datasets, realizing powerful new insights and driving transformative innovation while still meeting regulatory obligations and ensuring patient privacy.
Seamless data-sharing is opening the door to groundbreaking diagnostic tools and treatments, making healthcare organizations more resilient, and offering new insights into emerging or poorly understood diseases. But data-sharing at scale doesn’t just open the door to new types of innovation — it also enables stakeholders to accelerate the pace of innovation dramatically.
Developing and validating novel treatments requires researchers to detect faint signals in noisy data. This challenge - in part - makes medical innovation a slow, meticulous process. With the availability of big datasets, more reliable signals can emerge when data is shared freely. These medical advances can translate to the bedside to improve patient care more rapidly than before.
As the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox has shown, local health challenges can rapidly erupt into global emergencies. Making health data more accessible, and enabling researchers to rapidly access vast datasets, is the key to accelerating innovation and building the agile, resilient healthcare system we need in today’s globalized and fast-changing world.
Sharing medical data can also help providers find paths to better treatment for patients and more cost-effective ways of delivering excellent care. In Michigan, for instance, a network of 26 hospitals shared data to improve spinal surgery outcomes, providing better treatment while simultaneously saving an estimated $20 million.
To realize such benefits on a larger scale, and accelerate innovation across the board, we need to eliminate data friction. Healthcare providers traditionally view data through the lens of patient privacy and are wary of sharing data with outside partners. That’s a valid concern; thus, we need new tools to enable providers to break down data silos and share data with confidence, without compromising network security or patients’ privacy rights.
Finally, we need an infrastructure that makes data discoverable and helps researchers rapidly locate and partner with providers that hold the resources they need. New approaches such as data catalogs will make it far easier for providers to publicly list their available data, without disclosing its sensitive contents, and for trusted partners to then rapidly identify and responsibly access the specific datasets needed to drive innovation.
A New Path Forward
During the pandemic, we trained a new generation of young, tech-savvy doctors for whom collaboration and data-sharing are now second nature. Now, it’s time to commit to building the infrastructure we need to carry our entire industry forward.
The COVID-19 crisis was a forcing function: providers and researchers had no choice but to work together and share information in order to overcome the challenges they faced. As we move into the “new normal,” healthcare stakeholders need to think carefully and deliberately about how to enable continuing collaboration, and how to put in place rigorous systems to enable data to flow to the places where it can be analyzed and translated to have an impact.
At Lynx.MD, we believe that effective data-sharing is the key to driving continuous innovation across the entire healthcare ecosystem. The pandemic showed us what we can achieve when we work together. It’s time to lean into those lessons, and use tech-enabled collaboration to forge a resilient, interconnected global healthcare system capable of rising to whatever new challenges the future brings.
Dr. Abo, VP of Medical Affairs at LynxMD is a Professor of Emergency Medicine & Pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She received her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied science. After medical school at Sackler School of Medicine, Dr. Abo completed her pediatric residency at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital. She is dual fellowship trained in pediatric emergency medicine (Boston Children's Hospital) and Emergency Ultrasound (University of California, Davis). In 2020, Dr. Abo received her MBA with a focus on the Management of Technology in Innovation from the George Washington University School of Business.