Series: What are healthcare data? Post 1. Structured and unstructured healthcare data

Series: What are healthcare data?

This is the first of a series of short posts that aim to clarify what we mean by health data.

Post 1. Structured and less structured data

Healthcare data can come from a variety of sources and can take various forms. They can come from Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), and can include information about hospital visits and prescriptions for example, or patient surveys. In this case healthcare data are usually structured. But they can also be in the form of handwritten notes from nurses and doctors, or radiographic images such as MRI’s. In this case they can be entered in databases using unstructured databases in NoSQL language.

According to NHS Personalised Health and Care 2020 paper (2014),

In addition to the work on structured data standards, NICE, in collaboration with other members of the NIB, will convene a forum to support the adoption of semantic web technologies and the further development of established semantic standards, thus improving the management of less structured information within the health and care system.

The image below helps us understand the flow of structured & unstructured data from their creating at the point of entry – full report here.

Structured/unstructured health data flow

Source HIMMS 2016: “These data are stored in both structured and unstructured forms until they are either “pushed” (to users) or requested for use (by government agencies and others). Both structured and unstructured data need blending to create insights that will keep the patient at the center of care” 

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