EMR systems bring need for data integration, data quality into focus

Data integration and data quality technologies that support electronic medical records systems could play an integral role in modernizing healthcare IT in the U.S.

It is clear that President Obama's push to upgrade the nation's healthcare IT infrastructure could prove a boon for electronic medical records (EMR) systems vendors.

But other, related technologies that support EMRs, including data integration and data quality software, could also benefit from the increased investment in healthcare-related technology.

"Data management is definitely going to play a big role [in the emergence of EMRs] for a lot of reasons," said Ray Wang, an analyst with Forrester Research who covers both data management technologies and the health and life sciences industries. "And data integration, MDM and data quality technologies are going to be very important."

As a result of the federal stimulus bill, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by the president in February, the government will begin making incentive payments to doctors and hospitals in the Medicare program to adopt EMRs in 2011, then impose financial penalties in 2015 for those who still haven't done so.

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As a consequence, with only an estimated 10% of U.S. hospitals and 16% of primary care physicians currently using EMRs, EMR vendors stand to significantly increase sales and customers in the coming years. Data integration and data quality technologies, which -- respectively -- facilitate the sharing of EMRs and ensure the accuracy and timeliness of the data that populate them, could likewise enjoy a surge in business.

"I think President Obama's [goal to improve] healthcare IT across the United States can only help vendors like us," said Deirdre Mahon, senior director of corporate marketing at GoldenGate Software, a San Francisco-based data integration specialist.

Jack Wolf, president and CEO of Emerging Health Information Technology, an EMR vendor based in Yonkers, N.Y., said data integration technologies play an integral role in the functioning of his company's products. Data integration software from GoldenGate, for example, feeds data from a variety of sources to a clinical repository that its customers can analyze with an application called Clinical Looking Glass.

Emerging Health Information Technology also uses GoldenGate data integration software to let hospitals and clinics -- such as Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx -- share data and analysis with other hospitals and regional health information organizations.

"As long as the IT environment is heterogeneous [which is nearly always the case] and as long as you need to share data across all the systems, you will always need a data integration solution," Wolf said in an email interview. Data integration technologies, he added, will find more opportunities as "a natural byproduct" of increasing EMR adoption.

Data integration technologies will also play a key role in keeping EMRs and healthcare-related IT systems continually up and running, Mahon said. With lives at stake, hospitals can afford almost no downtime of their critical applications, she said.

"[Hospitals] have to make sure those systems are highly reliable," she said. "So if a disaster happens … they have to have lots of contingencies in place to make sure the data is accessible all the time." Tapping data integration technologies is one way to do that.

GoldenGate data integration technology, for example, can replicate patient data as it loads it into EMRs and other applications. It then stores the backup data in a second repository, where it can be fed back to EMRs in near real time should the primary data source be knocked offline for some reason. GoldenGate has partnerships with GE Medical and Cerner, two of the largest EMR vendors, to provide such data backup to their systems.

"These mission-critical areas have a patient -- and in some cases a life-or-death situation for a patient -- at the other end," Emerging Health's Wolf said. "So there's not an option that this is not going to work."

Data quality vendors could also find their services in more demand as more and more hospitals go digital, according to Forrester's Wang.

Thanks to siloed data sources and the reams of paper-based records piled up at most healthcare organizations, "what we're going to find out is that there are going to be so many redundant records in the system," Wang said. "That's definitely going to be a huge issue for data quality."

Improved business intelligence and data analytics at healthcare organizations are also likely to emerge as timely and cleansed electronic patient data and clinical data become the standard rather than the exception, Wang and Mahon agreed.

"Because they have these rich repositories of patient records that they are now relying on [once EMRs become more pervasive]," Mahon said, physicians and hospitals will have the ability to do more complex analysis than ever before.

"Predictive models about diseases, predictive models for courses of treatment, predictive models in terms of billing behavior -- all these things are going to come into play," Wang said.

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