Information is everything in health care. Everyone from nursing assistants to chief executive officers need medical databases to do their jobs. Today, most medical information is stored in databases instead of filing cabinets. Medical office assistants use medical databases to serve patients and colleagues.
What Is a Medical Database?
Medical databases are organized collections of health data, stored electronically and accessible from a computer. Each serves a unique function, yet most are integrated and work together.
It’s how different departments in the same health care facility share and communicate information. Databases have streamlined medical services, improve patient safety, and enhance the quality of care.
What Information Is Held in a Medical Database?
The databases a medical office assistant uses may be limited to a single type of information or function, but most contain a range of data. A database for a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital typically tracks this kind of information.
- Electronic health records
- Billing and claims information
- Financial data
- Inventory use
Most databases also include medical search engines that provide complementary health information.
What Is a Medical Database Search Engine?
Medical database search engines are online platforms, like Google, that let you find information on any health care topic. Built into practice management software, they allow doctors to review treatment guidelines, journal articles, and current clinical trials without retreating to a library. Nurses can print patient education materials on the spot. Medical databases are a quick and efficient way to search through large volumes of data.
Similarly, medical search engines for office support specialists help you look up billing codes, insurance claim requirements, and health care regulations. It beats searching through shelves of printed volumes for a single bit of information.
What’s the Purpose of Medical Databases?
Medical databases are used to for many different reasons by a medical office assistant.
Storing Health Records
The volume of data in health care is overwhelming. Quintillions of bytes are created in health care and managed in medical databases.
Only digital storage makes this manageable. Gone are the chart racks and floors of filing cabinets. Data that once had to be handled dozens of times in paper charts can now be found and shared in seconds. Medical databases are efficient and secure.
Sharing Information In-Network
A medical database makes it easier for staff to share information within an institution. For example, in a hospital, once a radiologist downloads X-ray results, the emergency room doctor has immediate access to make treatment decisions, and a billing specialist knows to initiate an insurance claim, all without leaving their offices.
If the patient is then sent to an affiliated rehabilitation facility, records are available online to those clinicians, and once discharged, to associated physicians. Medical databases are critical for continuity of care.
As a medical office assistant, updates you make in patients’ demographic or financial information flow to other departments to ensure changes will be made only once. Everyone who then looks at that record sees the same data.
If you change a patient’s insurance carrier at check-in, the physician is made aware and can suggest treatments known to be covered. The billing specialist is also notified, so he or she can collect the correct copayment and direct claims to the right company.
The sooner and more accurately the information is received, the smoother the care process goes for both patients and doctors. The primary strength of a medical database is its ability to process complex transactions in real time using stored information. Built for speed, databases can complete tasks in seconds.
Building Data Sets
Data sets are collections of related information. In much the same way as you can search a store’s database for a list of products in one category, a doctor’s office or hospital can extract a list of patients with specific attributes, for example, the number of patients who were admitted for influenza.
How Are Medical Data Sets Used?
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Have you ever wondered how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) knows how many Americans have heart attacks? Or how public officials compile vaccination statistics? Or how Medicare can predict how much it will spend in the next fiscal year? The information all comes from reports containing medical data sets. Here are some of the methods information is collected.
Track Disease Trends
The recent pandemic underscores the need for tracking contagious diseases. When patients are seen at a hospital or doctor’s office, the encounter is coded with an alphanumeric sequence that describes the symptoms or condition for which they were treated. Local, national, and global health organizations can then pull that data, so they know how many people potentially have a given illness.
Make Public Health Recommendations
Public health dollars are scarce, and policymakers want them to count. For example, when COVID-19 cases were at their peak, they looked at the data sets of ICU patients to determine where ventilators from the Strategic Health Stockpile were most needed. Similarly, financial data sets show how much states are spending to control the pandemic and how to allocate resources best.
Measure Treatment Outcomes
Treatment outcomes are monitored in every health care facility nationwide. Insurers, including Medicare, incentivize doctors and facilities to provide the best care with financial rewards for successful treatments. By monitoring results, companies know where their money is well spent. Understanding how facilities achieve success also helps industry leaders refine best practices.
Improve the Quality of Care
Hospitals and doctors’ offices use data sets for quality improvement projects. For example, surveys showing most patients are dissatisfied with ER wait times may reflect a need for more staff. The government uses similar data sets to help facilities improve treatment outcomes. Agencies use the data for reimbursement and self-monitoring.
Promote Patient Choice
The government publishes select data to help consumers find the nursing facilities and home care agencies offering the best care. Doctors get stars in Medicare’s Physician Compare system for meeting benchmarks, such as vaccinating patients and providing preventive services. Hospitals are rated on criteria, such as readmission for the same condition and patient falls.
Create Budgets and Plan for the Future
Financial data sets are useful for budgeting and managing fiscal performance. Figures help practice managers identify where revenue is lagging.
If, for example, denied insurance claims are the cause, practices can focus their efforts correcting the problem. Government agencies and insurers use the same tools to draft budgets and plan capital expenditures.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards millions in grants to make biomedical data sets available to clinicians. Doctors can compile lists of best practices for treating people with similar symptoms. Patients ultimately benefit when their physicians can tap a broad range of global health resources.
The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association reports fraud consumes 3 percent of the federal health care budget. Other watchdog groups estimate it ranges as high as 10 percent, or $250 billion. It’s a crime we can’t afford.
One of the benefits of electronic health records is that they’re standardized, and entries are traceable. Deviations in data sets are a red flag and may point to fraud.
Medical Databases: The Medical Office Assistant’s Role
Medical office assistants have many responsibilities related to databases, from knowing how they function to protecting patient privacy. But their most vital role is to ensure the data they enter is complete and correct. The information in a database is only as useful as what’s entered. As the first person to access client records during a visit, you’re the gatekeeper of accuracy.
Information is the foundation of health care, so it’s not surprising that as technology advances, databases are improving the quality of care. The full digitization of medicine isn’t complete yet, but it’s happening fast, and medical office assistants will play an important role.
Interested in using those medical databases as a medical office assistant? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical office field?
The Medical Office Administration program prepares students with the skills and training necessary to provide excellent administrative support while working and playing a key role in running an efficient, productive office in a variety of medical and business environments.
Through a blend of classroom instruction and practical hands-on training, Medical Office Administration program students receive an in-depth education in computer data entry of patient information, patient files, filing systems and records, insurance claim filing, and billing and coding.