Connecting Data for Better Healthcare

Bringing test results, patient history and the latest medical research together holds promise of better treatment, leaders predict.

In the heat of a medical emergency, doctors may have quick access to bits and pieces of a patient's journey to the hospital bed.

Technologies are being implemented to help connect those pieces, but critical information may be missing from this bigger picture of a person's health that would deliver strong insights. How can companies provide the whole data story to help healthcare professionals make critical health decisions?

The dawn of tools that bring it all together – test results, medical history, medical guidelines and even the most recent clinical results – has arrived, said healthcare leaders at the Wall Street Journal's Future of Everything conference in New York City. Translating that data into better care remains the next challenge.


"The final glue that holds this all together and takes us to a whole different level is the ability to rapidly move information and provide insights right by a person's bedside," said John Frels, vice president of research and development in Abbott's Diagnostics business, who spoke on a panel at the conference. "We're making the platforms and the algorithms to make sense of it all in real time, and it's going to have a powerful clinical impact."

The healthcare industry continues to produce unprecedented amounts of raw data that can overwhelm providers, payers and patients. The latest diagnostic testing instruments generate results faster than ever. That's less useful if the data is stuck in a silo and can't reach healthcare professionals at the right time and the right place to make a difference in the quality of care.

"The solution to every problem in life begins with a diagnosis," said Dr. David Okonkwo, a neurosurgeon and director of the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, another panel participant. "It's now a golden age of partnerships between physicians and health systems and insurers all moving toward the same place – it's a fascinating time in medical history."

Innovation centers on both the collection of medical data as well as its delivery on demand for supporting physicians during different medical situations. Part of the challenge is that disparate computer systems may not talk to each other well enough to make the data meaningful. But improvements are coming every day, and physicians are already using tools to improve how they work.

Many companies are trying to bring new ideas to medical data. Abbott is working on products that help healthcare providers of all types and sizes take control of the data they generate from their labs, patients and procedures to find new insights, Frels said.

One piece of that puzzle is to gather a longitudinal look at a patients diagnostic testing so that professionals can make decisions with the whole picture of a patient's recent and long-term history and pairing that with other medical information in their medical records. The other side is finding predictive uses for data that then can be turned into treatments to potentially help keep people from becoming ill.

"The biggest opportunity we have in diagnostics right now is making more and greater opportunity with the data we have right now," Frels said. "Troponin is a great example. Now our most accurate and sensitive tests available in Europe and Asia can detect heart troponin levels that can be used to help detect and predict heart disease potentially years before symptoms appear. I think there are going to be a lot more stories like troponin."

The future of connected devices and connected data will play out differently between each hospital, clinic and healthcare provider, the panelists noted. The challenge will be to find customizable ways for each physician to take these data tools and make them their own in how they treat people and improve results; it's still early, but the need for better data tools is clear.

"That's the connection between health and humanity: why are we seeking health?" asked Okonkwo. "So, we can go back to our families and the things we enjoy instead of being beholden to a chronic disease."