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Quantum Leap: Revolutionizing Healthcare Through Knowledge Management

What Knowledge Management is and how it will improve quality.

By John Feldman, Founder and Chairman of Applied Pathways

When it comes to healthcare, all the knowledge mankind has accumulated since the dawn of recorded time could be described as the foundation upon which contemporary medicine has been built. Over the past several years, great leaps in technology have allowed for the unprecedented collection of massive amounts of data. This data, when properly harnessed through machine learning or other analytic processes, is capable of hugely augmenting our existing knowledge base, extending the foundation while also laying the cornerstone for precision medicine and truly revolutionary healthcare delivery.

Therein, however, lies the rub. For although we now excel at collecting data, healthcare often and infamously lags behind other industries in effectively translating that data into knowledge to improve quality. This is where knowledge management comes in. And with the proper solution in place, it is capable of evoking a sea change in healthcare, fomenting no less than a knowledge revolution that will grow exponentially and continue to drive quality.

So what exactly is knowledge management, and how can it help us? To begin, let’s focus on the knowledge management pyramid.

Augmenting the DIKW model 

The traditional knowledge pyramid is also known as the DIKW pyramid. Each letter in the acronym represents a different level. From the bottom up, these are:

1. Data;

2. Information;

3. Knowledge; and 

4. Wisdom.

Source: Clinical Knowledge Management, Opportunities and Challenges, Rajeev K. Bali

Delving further into these concepts, we can see the components comprising each step of the pyramid and how they relate to the traditional model (again, from the bottom up):

Collecting and Organizing – Parts of the lower pyramid’s data level, caregivers have gotten quite good at these imperative tasks, especially in recent years as technology advances have hugely aided in the data collection process.

Summarizing and Analyzing – These more advanced ventures occupy the second level of the pyramid: information. Technology again is a driving force here, with significant investments and advances in data analytics software allowing practitioners to finally begin to use collected data to its fullest potential.

Synthesizing and Decision Making – Occupying the pyramid’s apex at the third and fourth levels of knowledge and wisdom are, respectively, synthesizing and — most importantly — decision making. While the decision-making process remains solely with caregivers, knowledge-management technology is a powerful, cutting-edge tool to aid in synthesizing data, correlating it with all related information to suggest a hierarchy of importance (Ex: appropriate study or intervention), pointing out further information that should be gathered, and even listing possible causes.

Properly utilized, effective knowledge management is a robust tool capable of transmuting medical data into clinically relevant information, and making that information universally available to caregivers whenever and wherever they require it.

Proper knowledge management increases quality of service

Established in other industries in the early 1990s, effective knowledge management has been shown to encourage the sharing of information. This environment fosters innovation, providing that the knowledge management solution is a living, malleable entity capable of change and incorporating new learning as it is accumulated.

From the decades of data collected from those other industries that began incorporating knowledge management long ago, there is a demonstrable link between effective knowledge management and improvement in quality. By putting best practices into the practice of medicine, we can deliver tools to help caregivers perform at the highest level possible.

Knowledge management works best when it’s used across all continuums of healthcare. With contemporary technologies, contextually relevant knowledge or expertise can be delivered anywhere a patient seeks care. As the industry demands more performance from practitioners, there must be adequate tools in place to help them achieve their goals, including the Triple Aim. A proper knowledge management solution lays the foundation for rigorous quality control enabling improved workflow, efficiency and accuracy in diagnoses.

Raw data becomes information. Information becomes knowledge. Knowledge produces quality when enforced and consistently applied. The trick is to connect the people who produce knowledge with those who apply it. We now have a handle on data storage. Determining what to do with the data? That’s knowledge management.

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