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Fitting data into life’s flow- a vexing dilemma

This third in a series about health care data thinks about how data fits into the life flow of people. We collect data because we want to, need to, or are forced to. People observe their own health journey (life) and remember stuff: How I feel, how much I weigh, how much I eat, how far I go, how much pain I’m in, when I have to be somewhere, what it takes to get there, how much I spent or owe…. We may write it on a piece of paper, on a list, on a form or type it into something, or a machine captures, stores it and may display it or print it out.

People who work in health care collect data the same way. They observe and remember, talk about it, write it down or type it. Billing for health care requires much specific data. So does licensing and accreditation. The strongest motivator for collecting data is desire – the person collecting wants it. Wants to keep track, wants to know, is curious, wants to get paid.  Beyond that it’s tough. Life goes on, we’re busy. Who wants to interrupt the flow of life and document? The best data collection systems, for people and industry, are designed to work well in the life flow. Design and interface. So it’s best when we want to know something and it’s almost impossible not to record it. We want to know what food to buy – the shopping list is on the fridge. We want to know the number of steps we’ve taken – our phone counts them. We want to know our weight-step on the scale and the scale transmits to an app. Great design is when the data we select then goes automatically to our EHR or whatever master storage vehicle we use.

Much harder is design for data collection the collector doesn’t  care about. Unfortunately, that’s most health care data. People have to adjust their work/life flow to record these data. In these cases people are like water. They flow with least resistance. People who design data systems often call this workarounds. I’d say workarounds are golden nuggets giving us feedback that design or meaning isn’t well thought out.

This post about data and life flow only touches on data going in. Data is only ink on paper or bytes in the ether unless it comes out and has use. Information out, design and life flow is a topic for another day.