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4 Keys to Reference Data: Conversations with a Healthcare CIO

July 15, 2013

I recently spoke with a healthcare CIO to explore his perspective on the challenges of managing reference data.  The points he raised reminded me of a similar conversation almost two years ago, although the two conversations had very different origins. I think the convergence of thinking stems from the challenge of managing scarce IT and clinical resources in today’s fast-paced, transformative times. Now, more than ever, is the right time to truly master reference data with a single product that allows you to efficiently manage this critical enterprise asset. Yes, reference data is a key asset.   

It’s about Governance.  I really got an eye opener with the CIO as he launched into the governance challenges of reference data. He described task forces/committees of 10-20 individuals representing system analysts, clinical and business managers, and research who meet regularly to reconcile reference data changes and ensure they were “all on the same page.” All were equally concerned about the clinical and financial impact of accurate, consistent reference data management. He was a huge proponent of truly mastering reference data so the group’s work could be policy oriented and address the enterprise’s strategic goals. He also highlighted the need for auditable reference data. Third parties and internal auditors need to see the lineage of reference data. IBM Infosphere Reference Data Management delivers this, and much more. 

Don’t forget all the code tables in the EHRs and clinical systems.  There is a major push in upgrading current systems or installing new ones to capitalize on Meaningful Use dollars. This push is really stressing the tens (if not hundreds) of code tables in clinical and financial systems.  The CIO reminded me that this need still exists even though an organization may take the single vendor approach.  Having reference data management software that builds once and propagates changes per established interactions is smart, efficient and accurate. 

The financial stakes are quickly getting much higher.  Mergers and acquisitions are growing more common, and the CIO raised concerns about the resulting stress on finances and data. Integrating historical data from the acquired organization is challenging in a busy, resource-constrained, environment. If the enterprise has a comprehensive approach to managing reference data, including an RDM solution, the integration should be quicker and less costly. Therefore, the enterprise can expedite what some might consider the tactical activities and move to strategic priorities. Improving quality while controlling costs ring true with reference data management, and, quite frankly, all organizational goals. 

Big data, here we come!  If governance, code tables and finances haven’t convinced you of the need for a comprehensive approach to mastering reference data, exploring how big data fits into your strategic initiatives may. Big data enables organizations to harness the insight from largely untapped historical data. And this will drive the need to understand the lineage of reference data, which RDM supports. Key insights that have the potential to truly transform individual or population health are now within our reach. 

Accurate, efficient reference data management is a vital component to an organization’s data governance strategy. Don’t overlook this foundational component as you build and execute your enterprise data governance strategy and work to improve individual and population health. Here’s to your success!