The Skill All Future Health Care Pros Need to Hone: Integrating Data Streams
Now is the time for health care professionals to start readying themselves to excel in the future of their industry. Health care providers will need a new set of skills to ensure that health care’s fast-evolving technology is indeed helping to save lives and keep patients healthy — and not becoming so confusing that humans in the health care field are failing to notice when the machines make mistakes.
Before long, health care professionals will be tasked with managing, analyzing and integrating data streams from multiple technology sources. For example, a physician might receive data concerning a single patient from the patient’s wearable devices, from Internet of Things (IoT) technology in her home, from her electronic medical records, and from a wide variety of other sources. It’s likely to add up and become a serious challenge.
Consider this statistic from a report by data storage company EMC: 153 exabytes of health care data existed in 2013, and if the amount of data grows at the projected rate, that figure will grow to 2,314 exabytes by 2020. According to the report, if this data were to be stored on tablet computers stacked on top of one another, the stack of tablets would have extended 5,500 miles high in 2013 — and would reach 82,000 miles only seven years later.
Health care data will grow so voluminous, that smart technology, capable of wading through, finding patterns in, and analyzing big data will soon become not just useful but indispensable. At the same time, it’s possible that such intelligent technology could grow too useful, in that it could start to seem deceptively infallible.
“There is a danger of over-reliance on the technology, and of not being able to think critically,” says Greg Welch, the Florida Hospital Endowed Chair in Healthcare Simulation at the University of Central Florida. “Health professionals need to be able to look at conclusions and recommendations made by the technology, and to question it.”
Welch points to a few important steps involved in developing that critical thinking ability in relation to the technology taking shape in health care:
1. Understand the individual pieces of technology feeding into the data stream.
Before long, an individual patient’s profile will include an amalgamation of data from various sources. It will be crucial for health care providers to understand where each fact and figure comes from, and how a given device arrives at a conclusion. Without that understanding, it will be much more difficult for physicians and nurses to hold on to the skepticism they need to do their jobs well.
2. Develop ways to double-check the data — so you still see any red flags.
Anyone in the sciences knows that it’s important to replicate a given process and reach the same conclusion if that conclusion is to be trusted. The same goes for the medical recommendations and descriptions offered by technology: It’ll be crucial for the health care field to find ways to strengthen the credibility of patient data by tracking similar measures in various sources. This will help ensure both the accuracy and the trustworthiness of data.
3. Spot-check the technology by occasionally going around it.
If a data source is insisting that a patient is at high risk for a disease, for example, it will be important to — as often as possible — double-check that finding by running tests that don’t rely on the same data to reach a conclusion. That will require health care pros to maintain a firm hold on the traditional skills they need to recognize the symptoms of disease the old-fashioned way.
Welch explains that students in his program through UCF online are taught the basics of these various data sources so they can develop the ability to think critically about how the data sets are shaped and what they offer. Only under humans’ close watch and careful monitoring will technology really assist the future of health care. To get there, it will be crucial that health care professionals maintain an adequate understanding of the technology upon which they are relying.
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