In the health sector, data is more important than ever before. Technology is allowing decision makers to collect enough information to see the big picture. Often, the result is better decisions that improve health care efficiency and benefit patients.
But is this type of progress occurring in every field? Not equally. Wound care is a great example. Time and again, leaders note that there are gaps in Canadian wound care knowledge. Even basic questions don’t always have clear answers.
How many Canadians live with chronic wounds? Without this information, it can be difficult for agencies and ministries to address important wound management issues. Even getting adequate support from the government can be difficult.
If you’re a wound care champion or specialist, these deficiencies make it more difficult for you to do your job. And ultimately, it’s patients with chronic wounds who feel the impact.
Luckily, some wound care organizations have recognized the problem. And they’re taking steps toward collecting more accurate and comprehensive wound care data. Read on to learn more.
Does data really matter?
There’s no shortage of hype surrounding the uses for big data in health care. Very often, this type of data is automatically collected by the electronic systems used in traditional health care environments.
As just one example, there’s great potential to design better emergency rooms by analyzing data points from personnel ID badges. By tracking the movements and significant actions taken by doctors and nurses, data scientists could optimize the space and workflows within ER departments to make them more efficient.
In general, big data can be used to spot trends and inefficiencies. Analysts of large data sets can help health providers find more cost-effective ways to diagnose and treat patients. They can also help identify patients at risk for particular diseases or readmissions.
Essentially, big data allows researchers to look at what’s working and what isn’t—and to begin discovering why.
Most often, we imagine this type of data collection and analysis occurring in traditional care settings, such as hospitals. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In community care, keeping track of data related to patient conditions and home visits is feasible. Mobile apps are capable of tracking this information, which could later be analyzed to find accurate statistics.
And why do statistics matter? Consider what health care providers can do when they have hard numbers to back up their claims. Suddenly, the challenges and patient struggles they see everyday can be quantified. Those in charge of funding can see the scope of the problem, and they can’t deny that it needs to be solved.
It’s also true that providers can typically make better use of information in their one decision-making when its easy to digest. Think about it: allocating wound-management resources is much easier when you can see where the need is greatest.
Whether information is collected by technology or through more traditional methods (like patient surveys), analyzing it is absolutely critical.
Existing gaps in Canadian wound care data
Are you a wound care champion or enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse? If so, you’re aware that comprehensive data collection isn’t occurring in your field. And things needs to change.
Recent estimates from the Canadian Institute for Health Care Information (CIHI) cover compromised wound rates for 2011-2012. For home care patients, the rate is more than 7 per cent. That said, CIHI notes that its study has limitations, and that compromised wounds are likely underreported.
Wounds Canada is similarly aware of the study’s problems. The journal notes that CIHI draws data from databases that “underestimate ulcer occurrence and do not differentiate between wound types”.
So, how many patients are living with chronic wounds in Canada? The fact is, we don’t currently have that information. There are many statistics that could help health care leaders make better wound care decisions, if they were available. But an overall tally of existing patients would provide an important starting point.
When the providers you work for and with don’t have information this basic, it can result in ill-informed decisions. Those in charge should know how significant wound care issues are. What kind of time and resources are being devoted to this area?
Government policymakers also need access to accurate and comprehensive information. Without it, they may improperly assess the need for funding.
For you and your colleagues who deal with chronic wounds, the result of these miscalculation will usually be insufficient resources and programs. In order to avoid these outcomes, researchers and practitioners need to not only identify, but call attention to, existing knowledge gaps.
How many patients across Canada—and in each health care sector—are living with chronic wounds? This a great question to ask. But there may be others that need to come first.
Fixing the problem
One obvious solution to this problem is to plan a comprehensive study of wound prevalence in Canada. Failing that, a study to determine just how accurate existing data is—and where knowledge is missing—will provide a giant step toward better-informed wound care.
Luckily, this is exactly what Wounds Canada is planning. In its latest edition, the journal’s research committee announced plans to carry out a study. In its study, the committee will review and verify existing sources of wound prevalence data, and see where current gaps lie.
Of course, filling these gaps won’t be an easy task. It’s good to know what we already know, and what we don’t. But eventually, wound care data will have to be collected from across the Canadian health care system.
It may be especially tricky for practitioners to gather this information while working in community care. But, as we mention above, mobile apps can simplify the process by logging patient and practitioner activities. Still, the right technology isn’t always enough. If getting a clear view of the system is the goal, collecting data will present many potential issues.
Currently, home and community care is undergoing a major shift in Ontario. To some extent, leaders are still figuring out what works. As a result, standardization is an ongoing challenge. The same is certainly true during the data-collection process.
Which metrics should be tracked in order to help decision makers understand how well the system is operating—and how to improve it? How would researchers go about getting all provider organizations on board? How difficult would it be to get practitioners to use the exact the same collection methods?
These challenges are significant. When they’re applied to a rapidly-evolving area of expertise (wound care), there’s bound to be a lot of uncertainty. Luckily, those who are most devoted to wound care are on the right track.
Feature image courtesy of reynermedia