Mark Thill

Data: The gateway arch

I feel most comfortable writing about things I can touch, feel and see. Stuff. Data is not one of those things. And yet that’s where many of our articles took us this issue. And I’m glad for it.

For example, Rachael Fleurence, executive director of NESTcc (National Evaluation System for health Technology Coordinating Center), describes how she is tackling one of our industry’s – and our profession’s – most vexing problems: How to harness the wealth of digital data from electronic health records, insurance claims, registries, etc., to reliably evaluate the effectiveness and value of medical equipment and supplies. Doing so would be the Holy Grail of healthcare contracting. It won’t be easy, but Fleurence and NESTcc are working on it.

Then we became aware of Mercy’s agreement with BD in January, which calls for the two to use Mercy’s clinical data platform to help evaluate and improve the effectiveness of medical devices and procedures, beginning with integrated vascular therapy and vascular access management. It wasn’t the first such agreement for Mercy and its vendors (or “collaborators, as Mercy President of Business Integration Vance Moore, prefers to call them). Said Moore, “I believe that traditionally, marketing has beaten science. Now we’re trying to make science beat marketing.” High-quality vendors – collaborators – are happy to join in.

And our cover story on cybersecurity takes us into the darkest corners of the information age. The very strength of the Internet of Things – such as the connection between medical devices and electronic medical records – is its greatest vulnerability. Guarding our institutions from cybercriminals is now part of your job description. “There are no shortcuts [to achieving cybersecurity],” says Kevin McDonald, director of clinical information security for Mayo Clinic, and co-chair of the Joint Cybersecurity Working Group. “This is really one of those people, processes and technology things.”

After wrapping up this month’s issue, I realized I had learned something important: Even though data may be vaporous, it can be a most reliable gateway to things that aren’t – like better medical devices and better outcomes.