How to Enable Big Data Analytics for Medical Research with Structured & Unstructured Archival for EMR

Mindy Rathe
September 22, 2014

Archiving for Revenue, Cost Containment, Not Just Compliance

EMR systems like Epic have revolutionized the way medical information is captured and accessed by healthcare professionals, but there's a big problem: data is often purged from production EMR systems to maintain optimal efficiency of expensive Tier-1 storage. With today's big data analytical tools, data has tremendous value and now there is a solution for retaining structured records along with all associated unstructured data, such as radiographs, registration forms, ABNs, and even dictation audio encapsulated/embedded with the EMR records, while keeping systems functioning at their peak efficiency.

Why Does Structured Data Need to Be Purged from EMR Systems?

As data storage requirements grow, EMR systems can lose acceptable responsiveness, causing frustration for users and creating system instability. Compliance documentation, which may be in unstructured formats such as PDF reports, needs to be maintained and ideally stored as a single entity with the data itself. Storing unstructured data inside of the production database can result in bloat, while linking to external storage areas loses integrated referential integrity checking.

How to Maintain Both Structured & Unstructured Data with an EMR System?

Hospitals can now keep all structured data and unstructured data, documents and media with third-party archival software, such as InfoArchive from EMC. InfoArchive integrates seamlessly with Epic and other EMR systems so that all data is accessible through the EMR interface in a transparent manner to EMR users.

Why Not Use the EMR System's Archiving Module?

Since these modules are part of the EMR system's infrastructure, too much data will bog down the system and create instability. Most EMR systems only archive for compliance reasons and not with archiving for research in mind. For example, a report may be held to meet some compliance need, but the data that generated that report is lost after the final report is archived. This eliminates the ability to run different report types on the same data. Thus, a separate archive is needed to avoid this problem, and software like Epic already allows you to link to external archives.

Why Not Just Purge the Unstructured Documents?

If a hospital is found to be out of compliance because they are missing any part of the medical record, CMS can remove accreditation, resulting in loss of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, often resulting in the closure of the facility or costly remediation and re-accreditation efforts. Additionally, the legal risks of not being able to produce documents to the court are significant.

What Is the Value of Maintaining an Archive of Structured Medical Data?

It's called "Big Data" not simply because of its sheer massive scale, but also the variety and complex nature. To be useful, "Big Data" in healthcare needs to be complete, and timely. The right data to the right provider at the right time a key component. This helps to identify clinically important trends and interactions that lead to more effective patient outcomes. Organizations are joining forces inside and outside a particular system to put their big data together in a wider, more encompassing perspective to monetize the data's value such as through clinical trials.

Never Purge Valuable Medical Data Again

Especially if you already have an EMR system, you can now retain all structured and unstructured medical data without having to worry about system limitations and stability. Implementation of an archive document management system integrated with your EMR can lead to a new chapter in your medical research capabilities. This archive can also be a repository for any other legacy systems like PACS that you may want to move away from.

Contact us to learn more about structured and unstructured medical data archival