News Feature | September 17, 2013

3 Ways Big Data Is Changing Healthcare

By Greg Bengel, contributing writer

Big Data

Big data is allowing providers to engage in preventative care, increase quality of care, and decrease costs

Big data is, to say the least, a big topic serving up excitement and concern alike, and the healthcare industry is still wrapping its head around it. As recently reported here on Health IT Outcomes, a survey from the eHealth Initiative and the College of Health Information Management Executives finds that nearly 80 percent of providers feel leveraging big data is important for their organizations, and 84 percent feel that doing so is a significant challenge for their organization.

Regardless of how providers feel about the implementation, big data is and will continue to alter healthcare as we know it. A recent article on Salon.com talks about the improvements that big data is making in healthcare. As the article explains, a McKinsey & Company report says there are four “pools” of healthcare data: pharmaceutical research data, clinical data, activity and cost data and, patient behavior data. “Where big data comes in is gathering all this information together in one place, sometimes from many different data warehouses, and using it to gain insights into how our health care system can be better,” explains the Salon.com article.  “Want to know which drugs are least likely to have side effects? Which individual doctors have the best outcomes? Which procedures are most cost-effective? Big data could answer these questions and more.”

According to the article, there are three ways in which big data is “revolutionizing” healthcare:

  1. “Big data is increasingly being used by healthcare providers to identify patients at high-risk for certain medical conditions before major problems occur.” Providers can use big data to use predictive analytics to identify people and populations who are at risk. For example, the article references a health care system in Texas that is using data from clinical records and insurance claims to offer preventative services to people at risk for particular ailments (read about it here at dallasnews.com).
  2. “Big data is also being used to increase the quality of care received by patients.” Providers are using big data to create clinical decision support systems that help them identify errors before they are made and evaluate their own decisions.
  3. “[Big data is] helping reduce the mounting costs of healthcare.” According to the Salon.com article, in one instance big data was used to find out which doctors were generating the highest costs for procedures. After reviewing actions which these doctors took, the provider was able to lower costs by reducing duplicative and unnecessary testing. The article also reports a McKinsey & Company estimate that using big data could save health care almost half a trillion dollars.

While the benefits of big data in healthcare are undeniable, physicians must remember, as Salon.com concludes, “Health care is about people, not numbers.” In that vein, check out this recent article from The Boston Globe, “When patients are more than their data.” The author observes: “There are aspects of the human experience that are hard to account (or “risk-adjust”) for. And there will always be outlying, intangible qualities that mark good doctors and good care.”

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