Science is Beautiful Blog

Big Data for Healthcare

Posted by David Patti, Senior Vice President

Mar 18, 2014 10:00:00 AM


Big Data is coming, and ways it can impact the lives of average people are becoming evident to a cross section of industries from insurance to healthcare providers.

Defined as a collection of data sets, so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications, Big Data analysis allows researchers to spot trends and make correlations in information that can lead to solutions that may not normally have been considered using smaller, separate data sets.

When Google used their search function to map outbreaks of the flu in real time, the very first promises of Big Data became apparent. Big data is not just here to make our businesses more money, but to create efficiencies in every sector, including health.

There's a lot that Big Data and the US healthcare system have to gain from each other. In a recent piece in USA Today, Kelly Kennedy reported on a variety of ways that Big Data and the US healthcare system could work together, at three separate levels. 

  1. Create efficiency/reducing paperwork: The benefits from a consumer perspective is an end to paperwork, or at least the kind of paperwork you have to fill out in triplicate, listing every medical detail about yourself over and over again. This may sound like a small concern, but thousands upon thousands of hospital hours are wasted processing paperwork, and patients have been misdiagnosed because of a lack of information. 

  1. Improving patient care: Big Data can also be integrated into cutting-edge medical technology such as molecular profiling. Application of Big Data in this area may allow hospitals and patients to better understand the biology of an individual, which can help inform doctors about treatment selection. Similarly, this can allow insurers to better predict costs for certain types of chronic ailments and improve their ability to develop targeted insurance programs. 

  1. Identifying trends and solutions: Researchers who are able to track patients' response to various diseases, as well as ways in which certain patient populations respond to select therapies, helps researchers pinpoint exact methods that yield higher success rates than others.

This could lead to a better understanding about how to more effectively control factors like the spread of a seasonal flu. Big Data and the US healthcare system can be used together in this way to get a much more completed picture of how to deal with diseases as they spread, which may provoke a breakthrough in the fields of epidemiology and similarly statistically relevant fields of health.

Experts are saying now that the problem with realizing the fruits of combining Big Data and the US healthcare system are not technological, but economical. Businesses need an incentive structure in order to switch over to the new model of data, which involves less "siloing" of information across different hospitals and different departments, and more of a central, standardized way of interfacing with data across all businesses and networks.

Critics of the hold up, including Brad Ryan, a general manager at IMS Health, have said that the current method of holding information tightly and keeping it away from patients is, "paternalistic." 

The issue at hand, experts say, is not how to implement Big Data, but how to get the healthcare system to work with what's already there. We have a "wealth of data" and just need to use it in order to better our healthcare system. 

Topics: Healthcare communications, Managed Care, Big Data,


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