Data analysis has come a long way in recent years, allowing healthcare professionals to make use of advanced decision support systems in order to better diagnose and treat their patients.  A decision support system works by gathering and analyzing a patient's entire medical history as well as their current symptoms, then, through a series of algorithms, uses that data to predict future events, diagnose current conditions, and suggest treatments that would be most effective. While many outside the healthcare industry don't even realize that healthcare decision support systems exist, the fact still remains that they are helping physicians everywhere take a little more of the guesswork out of their job.

How do Decision Support Systems Work?

Decision support systems were first used by large companies in order to help guide business decisions. A range of data was entered into the system, and a series of complex algorithms would use that data to analyze possible outcomes and make suggestions about which strategy should be taken.

In the healthcare industry, which later began using similar decision support systems, the concept is essentially the same. Healthcare professionals upload a patient's medical history, enter their symptoms, and any other data that is available, and the decision support system makes a diagnosis based on this data. 

In addition to helping provide a diagnosis, healthcare decision support systems also work to suggest possible treatment strategies. Since the best treatment depends on the particular patient as much as it does the particular condition, analyzing a patient's medical history and data is a valuable way to come up with a treatment that has the highest chance of being successful. 

Advantages of  Physicians Using a Decision Support System

Most physicians are careful not to rely too much on a decision support system. After all, a physician's own experience and instincts are still incredibly valuable, and decision support systems are not meant to replace these things, but rather to supplement them. With that said, there are some exciting, quantifiable advantages of physicians using a decision support system in their practice. 

In a widespread, systematic review of decision support systems used in the healthcare industry, it was concluded that, " Decision support systems were found to significantly improve clinical practice in 68% of trials". This is great news for both physicians and patients alike and offers a lot of promise for the future as these systems continue to improve.

In a separate study, it was concluded that, "Studies of CDSS indicate improvement in preventive services, appropriate care, and clinical and cost outcomes with strong evidence for CDSS effectiveness in process measures", and in a study meant to analyze the future of decision support systems, the author concluded that, "The use of CDSSs in healthcare systems is likely to increase in the near future due to (i) growing concerns about the quality of medical care; (ii) continuous calls for a meaningful use of health information technology; and (iii) increasing use of and familiarity with advanced technology among new generations of physicians."

In the end, decision support systems are a proven effective tool that physicians can use to aid their decision-making process. How much they choose to rely on these systems is entirely up to individual practitioner, but, regardless, having the option available has thus far only led to positive results. 

Though decision support systems have been around for several years in the healthcare industry, they are still relatively new, and their use is just now starting to become more and more prevalent with physicians everywhere. As studies continue to come in showing that decision support systems do make a real, quantifiable difference in diagnosing and treating patients, and as the technology and processes continue to improve and advance, expect decision support systems to become even more commonplace in 21st-century medicine.


Future of Healthcare Data Analysts

As more healthcare organizations move to EHRs to take advantage of CMS payments, more healthcare analysts will be needed. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), healthcare organizations will want to switch to an interoperable system. This will allow data capture, data provisioning, and data analysis at a fraction of the time of an organization without such a system. In a sense, the AAFP has made an indirect recommendation for the use of an enterprise data warehouse to aggregate all clinical data for processing.

Healthcare data analysts will be a constant aspect of modern healthcare, especially with more incentive programs set to rise in coming years. The healthcare data analyst’s roles and responsibilities may change from organization to organization. However, their overall goal will be to maintain patient safety while minimizing cost and maximizing adherence to federal healthcare statutes.