Data Warehouses in Healthcare: A Prescription for Improved Decision-Making 

Updated on October 20, 2023
Medicine doctor hand working with modern computer interface as medical network concept

When it comes to an industry as essential and precise as healthcare, there is no room for inaccurate, inconsistent, or disorganized data. Providing timely and efficient patient care is the top priority, which means having accessible and transferable patient and provider data for every professional involved. Because of its sensitive nature, data warehousing is rapidly growing in the healthcare market, serving as a necessary measure for creating a trusted database for providers and patients.

Current market research predicts that the global healthcare data storage market is projected to reach $7.7 billion by 2030. Prior to warehouse implementation, it is essential for providers and professionals to understand how data warehousing is transforming healthcare. Forbes defines a data warehouse as “an information storage architecture that allowed structured data to be archived for specific business intelligence purposes and reporting.” When it comes to healthcare, it serves as a centralized repository for provider and patient data across multiple systems including electronic health records (HER) and electronic medical records (EMR). Uniformly formatting centralized data makes it seamlessly ready and available for analysis. With healthcare providers relying on data spread across multiple legacy systems, it is important for the data to connect and communicate with one another. Leveraging trusted, accurate patient and provider data often determines the time it takes to provide quality care. For this reason, it is crucial for providers and organizations to apply a data warehousing program that aligns with their unique goals and values and quickly serves the patient effectively. 

Applying data warehouses to the healthcare industry 

Integrating data warehouses into a healthcare organization’s legacy system requires a comprehensive understanding of its general scope within the industry. Understanding the general “why” before the specifics is the first step. Warehousing delivers continuous accessibility to analytics and real-time reports to healthcare providers. They also serve health insurance companies by sharing valuable data regarding service rates and reimbursement schedules. This allows payer and provider systems to better align and proficiently co-exist. With simplified access to historical data, professionals can monitor patient trends and further evaluate the next course of action. For reasons like this, data warehousing is experiencing a major boom in the healthcare industry.

According to the National Library of Medicine, healthcare professionals lose nine hours per week navigating siloed data—time that could be devoted to providing top-notch care to patients in need. Warehouse architectures and their role for payers and providers are continuously rising, with significant growth projected in the coming years. It is a technology that is constantly changing and improving. With real-time data and analysis, healthcare organizations can eliminate administrative work and shift it elsewhere. 

While saving time on administrative duties and attaining more timely resolutions remain crucial advantages for implemented warehousing, some of the other central benefits of these architectures in healthcare include:

  • Reduced costs/improved management.Enhanced employee and inventory management reduces costs through data-driven decision-making.
  • Increased patient retention. An exceptional patient experience built onproper care and satisfaction strengthens trust and loyalty to a particular organization.
  • Innovative solutions.Predictive analytics and tools deliver well-based data and information for providers, allowing for stronger decisions.

Defining warehouse structure and overcoming challenges

While transitioning to a data-centric approach, there are inherent challenges with this process due to legacy systems and their numerous limitations pertaining to data accuracy and accessibility. Often, they are not equipped to manage an extensive database, which results in data inaccuracies, inconsistencies, duplications, cybersecurity risks, and omissions. In healthcare, there is little to no room for errors during a literal “life or death” situation. Unfortunately, healthcare organizations bear the costly challenges of upgrading their enterprise-wide system to an integrative warehouse structure. This leads to merging new components with certain legacy system elements. Data warehousing and its structure benefit the provider and can also determine the outcome of a patient in need.

A healthcare-centric data warehouse can serve multiple purposes for different organizations. These are dependent on the designated use cases. The basic structure of a data warehouse in healthcare is the modeling, sourcing, and staging of the data itself. Business intelligence (BI) and analytics are produced and enhanced through the warehousing process. The goal is to securely store the data, clean it of any inaccuracies or duplications, organize it efficiently among several warehouses based on the types of provided information, and effectively visualize it through machine learning (ML) tools to provide beneficial reporting and analytics that enhance overall decision-making. 

Because healthcare providers and facilities provide different care and services to patients, it is essential to align prioritized use cases with the proper warehousing functionalities for the best results. As the industry moves forward, healthcare becomes far more data-driven making it crucial for professionals to understand the flexibility and scalability that comes with data warehousing instead of dealing with legacy systems and traditional healthcare software vendors. The seamless communication between warehoused data systems and effortless accessibility opens up many innovative possibilities for healthcare organizations worldwide.

Key features and common challenges

When spending the time and resources to implement a warehouse architecture fully and successfully into a centralized data system, it’s essential to understand the key features of this integrative solution. One major feature of a data warehousing system is that it delivers the timely and efficient storage of historical data free of inconsistencies with periodical updates while reducing storage time and effort. Another notable feature provided by warehousing is trusted security, backing up secure data to ensure strong cybersecurity with privacy measures, including authentication rules, data encryption, and vulnerability checks. And finally, these systems provide healthcare professionals with transferable data lakes. This allows for cost-reductive temporary data storage in various formats before the information is transferred to a unified format and safely filed into one of the warehouses.

As simple as this all sounds, several healthcare organizations suffer from the common pitfalls and mistakes that plague many warehouse implementations. Frequently, they fall under categories such as:

  • Data governance. Failing to establish data rules and standards often leads to inaccuracies, errors, and privacy breaches.
  • End user involvement. By not including the involvement of end users such as clinicians or analysts in the development process, organizations may end up with data that doesn’t meet their end users’ needs or is difficult to leverage or access.
  • Disaster recovery/backup. Healthcare data is critical and sensitive. Data loss can lead to severe consequences for the provider and the patient. Backup and recovery plans need to be established before storing sensitive data in warehouses across multiple systems.

Relevant success and the future of data warehousing in healthcare

Unfortunately, healthcare data breaches show no signs of slowing any time soon. Within the first six months of 2023, the 10 largest breaches affected more than 30 million Americans. Global healthcare organizations are saving money and enhancing security by adopting a data-driven approach. In June 2023, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said they saved over $210.7 million in fraud in just a year. This is directly attributed to enhancing the storage and security of their critical data. Although there is no surefire cure to cyberattacks and data breaches, tools and measures are available to reduce them and their negative impact on many patients and providers. In today’s digital age, continuous development in healthcare data and technology ensures a growing and stable marketplace for data warehousing deployments worldwide.

The healthcare industry continues to grow through innovation and discovery. Worldwide crises like the recent global pandemic solidify how essential proper patient care is for those in need. As medical science and research evolve and develop significant solutions, so will the technology responsible for ensuring medical standards are achieved. Data warehousing delivers clean, accurate, and accessible data for the professionals who need it the most. It truly is a lifesaver by promptly providing reliable provider and patient data. 

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Prem Tamanam

Prem Tamanam is a data architect with over 20 years of experience in data warehouse development, testing, automation, and quality assurance. He works with healthcare organizations to deliver solutions for complex technical requirements. Prem holds a bachelor’s degree in math and science and a Masters’s Degree in computer application, both from Andhra University, India. For more information, contact [email protected].