Healthcare data presents unique challenges for the practitioners and academics who devote their careers to studying it.
For example, simply measuring healthcare data can be difficult depending on what the data is showing and how it is captured.
In chiropractic care, having the right data and recording it accurately is important, but it is certainly not always easy to do. With many practices recording and sharing data for their own business needs and also for insurers and government agencies, it is that much more essential to get data measurement and collection right.
Here’s how healthcare data is different.
No. 1: Definitions are different
Part of why healthcare is so hard to measure is because it is common in practice to see different definitions and standards in use. This makes it a real challenge to record information and quantify it accurately. Different health disciplines, too, have their own unique terminologies and may approach the same problem differently or using a distinct standard of care. As such, published healthcare data can be highly variable in consistency and can reveal different findings depending on who collected it.
When publishing or sharing data, it’s vitally important to provide definitions to ensure that others using that information know exactly what you mean.
No. 2: Data is complex and qualitative
Qualitative data requires judgement by the practitioner—it’s not simply a number to report, but may be a description or a number corresponding to a list of different descriptions.
For instance, data reflecting self-reported pain is qualitative. It’s difficult to measure a patient’s pain beyond asking him or her how much pain they are experiencing. Is every patient who ranks her pain as a “six” on a scale between one and 10 really reporting the same level of pain, or is it different for every person? We don’t know, but we may still need to measure pain regardless. If a clinic uses improvements in back pain as a measure of how effective treatment is, then the doctor will have to rely on patient self-reporting to collect and record this data. The doctor can’t merely use a ruler to measure pain or conduct a lab test—this is one reason why health care data tends to be more complicated than other types.
Likewise, data could also have more than one component or be measured imprecisely. The more complex the phenomenon that a healthcare researcher is trying to measure, the more likely it is that something could go wrong during measurement or the data could fail to tell the full story. For these reasons, it is that much more important to continue advancing health care research and finding better ways to collect data and understand health phenomena.
No. 3: Regulations change and data is stored inconsistently
Like it or not, regulations are part of healthcare. The fact that healthcare involves people and by necessity works with sensitive personal information means that healthcare data must be tightly regulated. For political, social, technological and scientific reasons, the way healthcare data is used and stored changes dramatically over time. In other words, healthcare data is difficult to measure and use in part because it is subjected to a long list of external forces. The only consistency in health are data use is change—or at least it seems that way.
As EHR continues to improve and interoperability becomes a reality for more practices, the problems associated with data storage and sharing are becoming more manageable. More clinics are able to readily engage with healthcare data in meaningful ways and share it. Of course, regulation and technological limitations can slow down this process.
Healthcare data is different
The study of human health has a fairly unique set of rules to follow and practices to observe. As we collectively become smarter at using health care data and creating it, it may become easier to advance health care research and discover more about how human health really works.
As a chiropractor, you can do your part by trying as much as possible to be consistent about data collection, definitions, and following applicable regulations.
LeSueur D. “5 Reasons Healthcare Data is Unique and Difficult to Measure.” Health Catalyst. https://www.healthcatalyst.com/insights/5-reasons-healthcare-data-is-difficult-to-measure. Published April 2014. Accessed July 2018.