Is there too much data available in medicine? “There should not be,” states Dr. Dan Hurley. “Having the ability to know more about my patients before they show up allows me to better help them.”
“Big data is an amorphous term,” he says. Big Data can describe many things but looking at the data in the health records systems, one of the challenges is that there isn’t always a shared platform to the data that physicians access. The lingering question is why does big data matter? It should allow physicians to learn more about their patients before, during, and after visits.
Most proponents of big data in medicine, like Dr. Hurley, believe that having the ability to gather, process, and analyze quality information will help them to diagnose their patients better. Do proponents of big data see problems now or on the horizon? Of course, they do, yet the risk is worth the reward of providing better answers to patients for treatment or, more importantly, for preventative medicine in the future. Even so, there are those against more access to patient data because of privacy issues, the inability to break down large amounts of data properly, and high costs.
A CAREER IN OTOLARYNGOLOGY
Dan Hurley, MD, began his medical journey believing he was going to be a pediatrician. After learning more about the ear during ENT rotations, he chose to become an otolaryngologist. He would go on to graduate from St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1996. Then, he completed both his internship and residency at St. Louis University Hospital. During medical school, he met his future wife, and with her parents living in Arizona, he decided that was where he would practice medicine.
Dr. Hurley began by teaming up with a more seasoned ENT physician. After a few years, they went their separate ways, leaving Dr. Hurley as sole practitioner. He believes that collaboration and compromise are vital in running a medical practice successfully. He decided to team up with seven other practices to form Valley ENT in 2007. The group now has over 21 locations, 41 physicians, 5 physician assistants, and 21 audiologists. Dr. Hurley is the President and Chief Medical Officer at Valley ENT and is currently in law school. Being an administrator “has taught me to listen more and to take something from every situation,” states Dr. Hurley. He focuses more on seeing pediatric ENT patients at this point in his career.
Dr. Hurley currently suffers from a disability that stops him from having a full-time schedule. In 2022, after nearly six months of being in pain, Dr. Hurley was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma in his pelvic bone. He had a hemipelvectomy with reconstruction with a 3D printed implant and artificial hip. His experience as a patient helped him improve on the way he cares for patients at Valley ENT and even inspired him to go to law school.
VALLEY ENT AND BIG DATA
How does an ENT multi-location medical practice leverage big data? Dr. Hurley and his team use electronic records in the form of eClinicalWorks. This has a portal for communication and a function (Healow Insights) that allows the physicians to access external data such as visits outside the practice, diagnosis, clinical impressions, and lab work performed. The degree of shared data is still limited but hopefully will continue to improve over time. They also use clearinghouses like Innovation Care Partners, which offers a database of information from laboratories, imaging facilities, and hospitals.
Yet, these databases aren’t always easy to use. Sometimes, he says, “There is just too much data, making physicians ask themselves if they are using data to work for them or are they working for data. There is no easy button that configures the most pertinent data to each patient or physician’s needs.”
Valley ENT also gathers and shares data through their EMR apps and portals, which allow medical staff the opportunity to communicate directly with patients. Although Dr. Hurley still finds them somewhat clunky, these apps and portals have improved in the last decade and should continue to do so. Dr. Hurley likes to emphasize the camaraderie between medical providers at Valley ENT. He says, “Everyone provides value and has a voice on the team, from the front and back office to the audiologists to the physicians.”
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
Dr. Hurley believes that more patient information is valuable but only if we can make sense of it. He believes that may be achieved in the future through machine-learning techniques and artificial intelligence, which could help sift the massive amounts of data into something more pertinent and usable physician-patient interactions. Learning health systems will hopefully revolutionize medical practice through the reallocation of resources, such as clinical staff having time to do other tasks and giving more time and guidance for physicians to accurately diagnose complex diseases. Once we have the systems using the data to allow more direct physician-patient interaction, we will be headed in the correct direction.
There is plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to electronic medical records. Dr. Hurley wants to see more standardized platforms that talk to each other more freely and securely. He feels that EMRs should either be a public utility regulated by the government or a private system that all physicians can access as needed across platforms. It’s not all rosy or smooth sailing ahead. Dr. Hurley is concerned about privacy issues and HIPAA violations with big data, as well as the ongoing need for information security across platforms. Optimizing the sharing of data for patient care can raise concerns as to whether this information could be used to affect insurability. As data grows exponentially this becomes more challenging.
As a physician, Dr. Hurley has a positive perspective of the three Vs of big data, namely volume, velocity, and variety. He sees the ever-growing volume of data about his patients, the velocity at which data are processed, and the wide variety of data that Valley ENT analyzes. The ability to share information to help patients is much better than it was 10 years ago but we need to get the information more effectively sorted so it can be used to bring the personal nature back to the physician-patient relationship as opposed to having physicians staring at screens during appointments.
Becoming a patient provided Dr. Hurley with a different perspective on how valuable data sharing across practices can be in optimizing patient care. His physicians are leveraging information to provide him with high quality care. The experience set a new bar of excellence that he wants all physicians to emulate. He places a high value on collaboration, compromise, and building relationships with fellow physicians, other clinical staff, his patients, and his own doctors.
About the Author:
Edward Araujo serves both as Managing Editor for Arizona Physician Magazine and Director of Marketing & Communications at the Maricopa County Medical Society (MCMS). He has over 20 years of digital marketing and non profit operational experience.