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Readers Write: The Scale of Interoperability: Healthcare Data is at Zettabyte Level and Growing

April 27, 2022 Readers Write No Comments

The Scale of Interoperability: Healthcare Data is at Zettabyte Level and Growing
By Jason Brantley

Jason Brantley is president and general manager, provider solutions at Datavant of San Francisco, CA.


We are swimming in an ocean of healthcare data. It is everywhere, yet it is incredibly hard to get complete health data for an individual.

Data on the health of anyone individual is being collected everywhere we turn, including when visiting our doctors all the way to the wearables we have on our wrists. All of this health data combined amounts to approximately 30% of the world’s data, and that number is steadily increasing year over year. If we were to consolidate all the healthcare data in the world, we would have an estimated 2 zettabytes, which means 2 trillion gigabytes, of data .

The amount of healthcare data generated has reached the zettabyte level and shows no signs of slowing. And that’s just the digitized healthcare data – there is still a lot on paper and on film.

With over 2 zettabytes of data, we should be able to do some really high-powered research studies to understand rare and complex diseases, personalized treatment for each person, preempt onset of debilitating diseases, among many other ways to ensure that every health decision is based on data.

The current reality is starkly different. Although there are many examples of health data being used to understand diseases, the efficacy of treatment, or how we can detect illness earlier, it is estimated that 97% of the data produced in a hospital goes unused.

How do we ensure that more of the data that is already being generated in the healthcare industry can be used to benefit patients? This is not a new problem, and neither is the answer, which is interoperability.

Interoperability in healthcare has been talked about for years, and has not been achieved yet for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons include lack of communication standards between different systems, integration costs that reduce motivation to become interoperable, and apprehension of organizations to sharing data due to security and safety concerns.

Although there are barriers, improving the ease of exchanging and using data in healthcare will mean complete access to patient information at the time of care, improved care coordination, and the ability to study complex diseases in real time. The zettabyte of healthcare data that is already being generated could actually be used to improve patient outcomes, and more importantly, save lives.

The first step to this vision of interoperability is making sure that health data can be connected and can also be exchanged easily while maintaining patient privacy and security. Data in the healthcare ecosystem will remain fragmented across many different systems until we have efficient and easy ways to exchange health data. Once we have solutions to solve the fragmentation of healthcare data, the right data will be in the right hands at the right time.

Digitizing health data exchange is essential to solving fragmentation. It means that the owners of health data, typically healthcare providers, enable digital retrieval and distribution of the data. This is not a trivial problem, but it is solvable with current technologies. The systems to enable digital exchange must offer easy and intuitive controls such that the data privacy, security, and any other protocol set by the providers are enforced for each exchange of data. A digital network with adequate control mechanisms will ease providers’ concerns on data privacy and security, while dramatically improving speed and cost of health data exchange. It is a giant step towards enabling interoperability.

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