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What it will mean when health care is truly data driven

Published on 8/5/2019

This Q&A by Brian Zimmerman was originally published on on July 31, 2019

When compared with industries like banking and entertainment, health care's digital transformation journey seems to have just begun. Industries that have been successful in this revolution understand it requires technology, leadership, culture change, workflow adaptation, employee engagement and digitizing useful, valuable data.

Becker's Hospital Review recently spoke with Nate Kelly, senior director and general manager of health system operations at Cerner, about what the future of health care could look like in a truly digital, data-driven world.

Question: Where is health care on its journey to become data-driven? Is the industry entering a post-digital world?

Nate Kelly: Health care in the U.S. just recently reached the point in which data has been mostly fully digitized. Although data is now stored and recorded electronically, health care is in the beginning stages of true transformation to unlock insights that inform new, more efficient processes that allow for more personalized, high-quality care.

The greatest consumer benefits and operational efficiency improvements occur when business models and processes shift in response to digitized data. Digital transformation is where health care is headed. At Cerner, we're building on a long history of innovation to shape the future of health care around the patient, while also reducing costs and improving the quality of care.

Q: How will health systems leverage data to improve care and operations in the future? Where do you believe data will have the greatest impact?

NK: Health care has traditionally been reactive, focusing on problems as they arise. Thanks in part to the ongoing digitization, the industry is making a much-needed shift to proactive care. Going beyond the current care episode, proactive care helps address health concerns before they become problems. Labor represents more than 50 percent of hospital operating costs for most health systems. There is opportunity to reduce expenses based on real-time or predictive, demand-based staffing. I think the industry will see a shift to real-time, proactive operations, care delivery and revenue cycle management.

In terms of where there will be the greatest impact, it may be in the operational space related to the management of patient throughput and staffing across venues. A fast follower will be the clinical side, as data and intelligence can help bridge the gaps between new knowledge and standards of care. All of this is fueled by advances in technology like machine learning, data science and mobile platforms. Many caregivers are leveraging mobile platforms to do their daily work. Imagine the opportunities for artificial intelligence focused on clinical quality or operational efficiency applied to a mobile workforce.

Now that health care data has been digitized, many executives are asking, What's next? They are wondering if they will see the same effects that industries like banking and entertainment have experienced. The reality is those benefits will come with transformation, and transformation is difficult.

Q: What other emerging technologies do you see having the greatest influence on the future of health care?

NK: New technologies can drive contextually aware workflows and increase convenience. For example, location technologies make it possible to know where patients or caregivers are, which can streamline electronic interactions between them. Insights from artificial intelligence and machine learning can be directed into clinical workflows and with positive effects on operational efficiency and the quality of care.

In addition, voice recognition technology will increase efficiency and convenience for caregivers, beyond the dictation that is now in physician's offices. It's likely advancements in voice recognition technologies will soon make it possible for conversations between caregivers and patients to be automatically charted in the EHR in the not distant future, a big win for efficiency and caregiver satisfaction.

The Internet of Medical Things is another important area in which technology is rapidly advancing. Connected medical devices can integrate various pieces of information on patient health and care delivery information but can also lead to information overload if not applied thoughtfully. It's important to find a balance. At the consumer level, the Internet of Things can provide a longitudinal view of people and how to engage them across the continuum of care, increasing the ability of organizations and caregivers to know and manage their patients.

Q: How can organizations ensure they are using technology in an effective manner that doesn't overburden clinicians?

NK: There is a lot of information out there about clinician and physician burnout. We have a responsibility as an industry to increase the usability of health care technologies and drive advancements that will positively affect care delivery for both the patient and the caregiver. Incorporating technologies in ways that are contextually aware to the circumstances of each care episode adds value to workflows. Advancements like voice recognition, AI, machine learning and IoMT can increase usability of health care technology and drive the industry toward digital transformation.

Today, many health systems are challenged with an increased volume of patients. Technology is a lever that can and should increase an organizations' ability to scale to meet the needs of the increased volumes.

Culturally, health care organizations will need to think through "systemness" when implementing new technologies, understanding how a given technology affects and improves the way the parts of the health system interact and work with each other to create a whole.  he benefits of digital transformation will only be reaped if technology adoption and process changes are supported by the culture and leadership of organizations.

Q: What most excites you about health care's future?

NK: The work I'm personally most excited and passionate about is the business model and operational model transformation that is now possible thanks to the hard work that's been done to digitize health care information. Most consumers are confused about how to navigate the health care system and they are often doing so with compromised physical and mental health. Health care is personal and it can be scary. When technology reduces the burden on caregivers and makes it easier to deliver care, we can enable them to have more meaningful, human interactions with patients. In so doing health care delivery can return to its core business of caring for and healing people.


The digital transformation in health care has the potential to increase operational efficiency, improve the quality of care and reduce variability in experiences. At the end of the day, caregiving is a human-to-human experience. "I believe that we have an opportunity to make health care more human through advancements in technology," Nate said.

Cerner optimizes the patient’s journey through the health system - including resource utilization - from check-in to discharge to placement across the continuum. To improve the patient experience and operational efficiency, we help health care organizations become data-driven using artificial intelligence, machine learning and digitization. Learn more here