How to Streamline Access to Unstructured Content

More data than ever is collected about patients, but the challenge is that not all data is easy to access. For example, a doctor might make chart notes or order an X-ray, and often that data gets trapped in PDFs, images, or even paper files. This trapped information is called “unstructured” data. And since the data doesn’t flow nicely into databases, it’s difficult for staff to locate the information needed, when they need it.

Research shows that unstructured data is the norm rather than the exception. It’s estimated that roughly 80% of all patient data is unstructured. And that means that staff waste valuable time searching to locate the data they require for work.

Understanding what unstructured data is, why it’s important, and how to efficiently improve access helps speed up many processes that hold you back, and it saves money.

Why unstructured data is important

With 80% of patient data being unstructured, slow access is problematic. For example, if you need access to an X-ray image but must wait days to receive it, workflows slow down, productivity takes a hit, and the patient experience is adversely affected.

Then, when you do finally receive that file, it’s likely the data will remain unstructured. And that makes the information difficult to search and locate in the future. So the root of this problem is twofold: first, you need an efficient way to extract unstructured data, and then you need a way to store it so it’s easy to find in the future. In other words, you need to break that information free of silos.

Breaking data free of silos

Data trapped in silos is more expensive to handle. That’s because accessing documents often takes multiple people and more complicated processes. But streamlining these processes improves workflows and requires less time to complete tasks.

  • Traditional process. Let’s say that you need a file, so you request it. After the file arrives, an employee reads it to locate the required data. If that document has dozens of pages, the process is often time-consuming.
  • Alternative process. You request a PDF file, but instead of reading the document yourself, you have a tool do it for you. It extracts unstructured content based on specific rules, capturing relevant data points for your system. As a result, the PDF is no longer unstructured. You’ve broken it free. A single system houses the data, which integrates easily with other systems, so data is instantly available in the future.

Developing a strategy to manage unstructured content

If you’re ready to break data out of silos, here’s a simple process for getting started:

Identify where unstructured data “lives.” Examples of unstructured files include paper documents, faxed information, radiology images, and more. Take inventory where your unstructured data lives so you can decide which processes to improve.

Automate the capture of unstructured data. A technology such as optical character recognition (OCR) can read your unstructured documents, capture relevant data points, and be used with robotic process engineering (RPA) to get data into a content service platform.

Leverage a content services platform. Store the data that OCR extracts in a content services platform. This system integrates easily with other applications, so data is no longer trapped and is easy to access.

Streamline the data-retrieval process. With data housed in a content services platform, staff can easily access data in real-time. And this frees staff to focus on higher-level work with streamlined processes and less manual work.

Target the processes that hold you back . With most healthcare data trapped in unstructured documents, imagine how much you could save by breaking that data out. The impacts would likely be huge once you multiple employees’ wasted time by their hourly wages.  That’s why targeting the processes for extracting and storing data allows you to simplify employees’ jobs, streamline workflows, and better serve patients.