IRQ Articles

Quality Improvement Column 

10-11-2016 12:11 PM

Leveraging big data: A call to action for the future of IR

By Rajesh Shah, MD, and Justin P. McWilliams, MD  Fall 2016

Data is a word we see and hear every day. Data permeates our lives via mobile devices, search engines and social media. Advertisements tout the promise and potential of “big data” along the expressway or in the airport. Yet, in interventional radiology, this potential has not been realized in ways that meaningfully impact our profession and the patients we diagnose and treat on a daily basis.

The health care profession is arguably still learning how to harness data gathered from everyday practice using electronic medical records (EMRs). The degree to which valuable information often resides within practice or hospital system siloes remains an obstacle to progress. Given the various EMR vendors and the continued reliance on free text and narrative notes, the data is not uniform or structured in any meaningful way. Variability within and between institutions makes mining of the data challenging. Pooling that data to provide a large repository for analysis is fraught with risk given the large amount of protected health information (PHI) contained within. Furthermore, data-driven efforts to measure the quality of care are hampered by rapidly changing standards and requirements.

Transitioning from florid data generation to meaningful data analysis and best practices is a daunting task. In order for individual practices and institutions to participate in large-scale registries, much work is required to determine where the data exists, how to extract the data, how to safely send the data and confirm the validity of transmitted data. The magnitude of this effort scales beyond the reach and resources of many practices, both small and large.

A few years ago, SIR launched a standardized reporting initiative. By creating standardized reports that use structured data elements that can be communicated without PHI, we are poised to collect a vast amount of data necessary for quality assessment, reimbursement and research purposes. To participate, all that is necessary is the installation of purpose-built software (developed in collaboration with the American College of Radiology [ACR]) and adoption of SIR reporting templates.

The IR standardized templates pilot study presented at the SIR 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting was essential for rational and practical template development. These templates allow us to collect well-defined, discrete data elements without substantially increasing dictation time and with sufficient flexibility to integrate practice-specific elements. We’ve learned much from the pilot study, including referring physicians’ preference for the structured data format. SIR has incorporated these lessons and is prepared to roll out the second generation of templates on the SIR website in fall 2016.

IR has always been a field on the cutting edge of medicine. In order to maintain this edge, we need to band together to understand, analyze and highlight our collective experience. We encourage all interventional radiologists to use these templates to gather vital data across a range of practice settings. These data are necessary to demonstrate to patients, payers and policy makers the quality and value of care that our specialty provides. Through our partnership with ACR, we will populate the IR Quality Registry with data captured from structured reports—particularly important since a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Qualified Clinical Data Registry can be used to meet the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) reporting requirements.

Data is now a ubiquitous word that is central to the intersecting realms of medical informatics, quality-of-care assessment and clinical research. If we do not invest heavily and collectively in data collection, we risk falling behind and facing an uncertain future. A steadfast belief in the value of IR is no longer sufficient. We must strive to prove and to demonstrate our value to propel us forward.

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