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Rim to Rim: What Is Data’s True Potential for Healthcare?

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I walked up to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim just after 7 a.m. on a frigid November morning. The park drew 4.5 million visitors in 2021 — yet as few as 1 percent hiked the muscle-melting 24 miles from my lookout to the North Rim. I strapped my backpack and stepped inside.

Within the canyon, I saw rock formations of all colors, fossils of ancient sea creatures, and world-class trail runners. I marveled at the twinkling night sky above my campsite and then gasped for air on the next morning’s ascent. After 30 hours immersed in the Grand Canyon and a 215-mile, 5-hour shuttle ride home, I finally began to grasp the landmark’s scope and power.

I’ve spent the past five years working in healthcare technology. While it led me to countless data stories, a question persisted: How did innovations build upon each other to make a difference? What did all this really mean? Like the desolate corners of the Grand Canyon, the cumulative effects of healthy data and creative technology remained hidden.

I came closer to an answer at InterSystems Global Summit 2022, immersed in dozens of stories and ideas. Suddenly, data’s true scope and power for healthcare — for us — became clearer.

In Healthcare, Data Is a Utility

Everything starts with the view from above. At the Grand Canyon, that’s what draws millions of visitors worldwide and prompts some to lace their boots. In healthcare, data drives the aerial view, empowering leaders to blaze trails across new territory. It incites change.

Don Woodlock, Head of Global Healthcare Solutions for InterSystems, described the big picture well on the Global Summit main stage: “Data has graduated to be more of a utility. You can’t really run a hospital or business without IT these days.”

But unlike your water or gas line, data isn’t boring. “It’s an exciting source of transformation,” Woodlock added. Healthcare’s digitization is as dramatic as the economy’s transition from steam power to electricity, he explained.

Yet healthcare’s revolution only begins with data integration and interoperability. No one knows where data-driven innovations will lead.

“Healthcare needs a lot of change,” Jess Kessin, a leading human-centered designer, said in her Global Summit keynote. “By thinking differently, maybe — just maybe — we can get to some of those ideas.”

Data Innovations Transform Healthcare

When I backpacked the Grand Canyon, far-off vistas became close-range encounters. I reveled in watching details emerge as I neared rare plant life and intense pockets of whitewater. At Global Summit, the rapid-fire delivery of customer stories offered a similar perspective.

The tale of Ascension, a U.S. health system serving 4.7 million patients annually, spotlighted how data can improve experiences for the people who matter most: patients.

When the organization undertook a project to build long-term relationships with each patient, it leveraged real-time data to streamline payments, scheduling, and performance visibility in person and digitally.

“We’re not too far behind the other industries,” said Eduardo Conrado, Ascension’s Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer. “We just have to catch up and pass them.”

One by one, speakers showed how they tapped data to address longstanding issues — and to tackle problems that no one previously dared to address.

Take Cognetivity, whose data innovations put the London-based company on track to establish a new global standard for measuring brain health and diagnosing dementia.

Then there were UC Davis Health and Centene, a provider-payer duo that united to automate prior authorizations, streamlining a mostly manual process with consequences for patients, clinicians, and the enterprise.

Summit Health harnessed data to build seamless patient journeys through a digital front door, connecting patients with scheduling tools, medical records, and clinicians 24/7 from anywhere in the U.S. The project went live in mere months.

Taken together, these stories represented more than innovation for innovation’s sake. They showed healthy data’s diverse and measurable impacts.

The View Ahead

On my flight home from Global Summit, I reflected upon data’s effects extend beyond healthcare. One InterSystems customer connected marginalized people to banking services, while others managed supply-chain disruptions with remarkable dexterity and aided families at risk of defaulting on their mortgage.

That’s when it hit me: Data has already begun to change everything we thought we knew.

But while my trip through the Grand Canyon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, healthcare’s data-driven journey will span many lifetimes. The only question left: How many lives will your innovations touch?

Ready to learn more? Watch how InterSystems customers are using data to transform healthcare.

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