The Flow of Data in Healthcare (Part 1)

Data moves through different parts of the healthcare system in obscure and confusing ways that range from modern to arcane. It’s a struggle to know exactly what data gets produced, where it gets sent, and who has access to it.

We are generating more health data than ever before and the tools to deal with the resulting onslaught are struggling to keep up, resulting in a system that has varying levels of access to the data, depending on how they interact with the patient.

We’ll walk through each segment of the healthcare data space and explore how data moves, where it comes from, what it looks like, and who has access to it. Part one covers Patients and the Point of Care. Part two will explore Ancillary Services, like pharmacies and medical scribes, and Payers.


Patients are clearly the focal point of data in healthcare, though not all of the data that is recorded about a patient is easily accessible by us. Today, patients are likely to be generating some of their own data as well, whether it’s from a glucose monitor, wearable device, calorie tracking app, or just in communicating with a doctor or other healthcare professional.

This data is starting to see its way into the healthcare system more and more, though many doctors aren’t sure what to do with it. Even more data is generated by patients as they move through the system. Some patients use personal health record systems to track this data, others access it through portals offered by their providers.

Many times, only a small portion of the overall data collected about patients is available to them. Most data generated at the point of care is only available through a formal records request, which needs to be done at each institution where a patient has been seen.

Point of Care

Most of us have now experienced a post-EHR office visit, some portion of which involves a care provider inputting data into a computer. Some of this data is structured, like medication orders, but most of it is simply written down in a format no more complex than this blog post.

The kind of data generated at the point of care is dependent on where you are being seen. A hospital will have thousands of data points for an in-patient visit, including real-time monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels. Even a simple visit to your primary care doctor can generate 20 or 30 pages of documentation due to the notes the doctor takes, lab orders, and medications.

Many of us have also visited a retail clinic or urgent care center or seen a specialist who is not connected to our primary care physician or our regular hospital. All of this data is communicated in varying ways and often it is simply faxed from one organization to another. Providers also generate a lot of data that gets used by organizations that patients don’t necessarily interact with directly.

Coming Next: Ancillary Services, Payers, and Government Agencies

Part two will explore how data moves through Ancillary Services and Payers, both of whom have an increasing level of access to data.

Also published on Medium.

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