The Two Types of Data Healthcare Providers Need

Speaking at the Familias en Accion’s Latino Health Equity Conference in late June, Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, director of health equity at Families USA, pointed to electronic health records or electronic medical records as an important source of information when it comes to uncovering patient populations that aren’t getting adequate care for chronic health problems. But at the same time, she emphasized that there are “two universes of data” healthcare providers always need to continue balancing. What are those two universes? Here’s what doctors, especially those working in family practice, need to be thinking about:

Electronic Records and the Potential for Big Data

If you haven’t already gotten started with a family practice EHR or EMR software, now’s the time to do so. These medical software systems offer numerous benefits. Some of those are internal (such as the 6% annual efficiency increase offered by an EHR). Others, such as the financial incentives offered by the Medicare and Medicaid programs, are external (as of 2013, 69% of physicians were intending to participate in those incentive programs).

But the rapid adoption of family practice EHR systems has also created the potential for insight garnered from “big data” — that is, the mining of the enormous data sets those EHR systems create. Consider this; of the physicians who don’t yet have EHR software, nearly half are planning to get started with a system in the next year. That means that soon, very few patients won’t be represented in the data in one way or another.

Soft Data and the Value of Personal Stories

In the fervor to support electronic systems and big data, however, it’s important that physicians remember to keep doing what they have always done: listening to their patients and treating them with respect. Big data reveals important trends that can reveal health inequities. But just a few words from a patient may still hold the key to treating his or her health problems in the best possible way. All doctors, whether or not they’re already using family practice EHR systems, would be wise to heed Hernandez-Cancio’s words, as reported by The Lund Report: “Please don’t underestimate stories. Soft data needs to be taken seriously.”


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