Bridging the data gap is vital for Irish medtech companies

14 Nov 2022

Image: © apinan/

InterSystems’ John Kelly says many medtech companies don’t give enough thought to interoperability in their early days, which has lasting consequences.

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Although the founders of many medtech companies are highly innovative and have robust business plans, they struggle with delivery of an interoperability strategy to share data with healthcare providers and other solutions.

Research from InterSystems among Irish medtech has found that for 14pc, failure to give sufficient consideration to interoperability when they started out has caused significant problems later on.

This is amplified by the shortage of data talent. The research revealed more than a third of Irish companies (36pc) have found that a shortage of the necessary in-house skills holds them back from achieving interoperability.

And although everyone surveyed has a data interoperability strategy – recognising that interoperability is the way forward – they are still trying to determine how to accomplish this difficult task.

Medtechs may use third-party data platforms designed to collect, process and manage data. However, the research found almost three in 10 (28pc) have a platform which is not up to the job of facilitating interoperability with healthcare data standards.

As things stand, achieving comprehensive data interoperability is beyond many Irish medtech companies, which is a serious drawback when a company seeks to scale up. Advances in medical technology have led to increasing numbers of connected devices able to generate, collect and produce insights from data which they then share.

In the early stages, a medtech company may rely on point-to-point interfaces or standalone solutions, but they are likely to run into real difficulties when it comes to scaling in a competitive healthcare market. If it continues to rely on such approaches, a company will have to keep hand-coding and testing interfaces, which is difficult and time-consuming.

We can see from the research there is a major data gap that Irish medtechs need to bridge. But with a global shortage of data skills, the best and most effective option is to seek out partnerships with vendors already well-versed in the intricacies and requirements of healthcare interoperability standards.

To obtain a holistic view of the patient, most medtech companies will need to be able to combine data from their connected device with the high volumes of medical data that already exist in electronic medical records (EMRs) and elsewhere.

None of this is easy when much medical data is still discrete, unstructured and often from EMRs and CRM systems that may only comply with legacy data standards or none.

The time-consuming difficulty of this task makes it unsurprising that in the research, 30pc of Irish medtechs say they struggle to find time just to organise and clean their data and 28pc say analysing and producing insights from data is a major challenge.

Health data management platforms

Aware they need to address interoperability, medtech companies have adopted a variety of different approaches. More than two in five of the survey’s respondents said they use, or plan to use, a database management system (42pc) and almost a third (32pc) use or plan to adopt the more advanced technology which is a unified data platform.

This latter figure is encouraging. A purpose-built, unified health data management platform will automate much of the routine collection and preparation of data, leaving highly trained staff to concentrate on driving product development and innovation.

What companies need is a platform that pulls together data from across the healthcare ecosystem irrespective of format. Any platform must fully support compliance with the major healthcare interoperability standards, and it needs to be capable of high-speed, multi-model data management.

It also requires natural language processing capabilities to deal with and analyse unstructured data such as medical notes.

And since machine learning is a technology that appears likely to have widespread application in healthcare, any data platform that is implemented needs to address these requirements too. It should make it as easy as possible for developers to create sophisticated machine learning models using SQL.

As they set out to achieve wide acceptance and take-up, medtechs must overcome the gap in capabilities when it comes to data interoperability. Instead of scrambling for point solutions, short-cut interfaces or hoping to recruit rare data talent, medtechs adopting a unified platform approach will secure the robust connectivity, data management and interoperability they need.

The right approach to health data management will provide a bridge to widespread clinical acceptance, commissioner approval and uptake in an expanding global market.

By John Kelly

John Kelly is a sales manager at healthcare data management company InterSystems Ireland.

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