Referring to the immense and complex sets of data that are now available at our fingertips, big data has quickly become one of the biggest buzzwords of the decade. From mom-and-pop stores on Main Street to global enterprises on Wall Street, the business world is privy to more data than ever before. Professionals know that it’s one thing to have a great deal of data, but quite another to actually extract meaning from it. Those who can use big data effectively to increase performance and decrease costs are becoming very valuable, especially in today’s expensive, data driven healthcare industry.
RELATED: Rise of the Data Scientist
Big Data Presents Opportunities for Healthcare
Healthcare organizations have traditionally generated and used large amounts of data. Over the past decade it has only increased as researchers, insurance companies, the federal government and other entities have released healthcare statistics and other meaningful knowledge to the industry. Healthcare is well positioned to take advantage of state-of-the-art technologies that can extract more meaningful insights out of big data.
Decreasing Healthcare Costs Using Big Data
Big data can help decrease the cost of healthcare in the United States:
- Data analysis can give providers insight to determine populations at risk for illness, so proactive steps can be taken to prevent it
- Data is easier than ever to share, and with new pay-for-outcome agreements, healthcare systems and caregivers are more incentivized to do so
- Big data can more accurately pinpoint where education and prevention is needed to produce healthier populations at lower costs
- Data takes the guesswork out of healthcare. Instead of using their judgment, physicians and other providers can base protocols on scientific, plausible evidence
Promoting Value and Innovation
Big data also presents healthcare providers with the opportunity to improve their value to patients with a more holistic, patient-centered approach to the delivery of care.
- Data can provide insight to patients about their current state of health, and encourage them to take more ownership of their healthcare
- Improvements in information sharing can increase productivity, reduce overlap and enhance the coordination of care
- Linking provider reimbursement to performance and outcomes will likely lead providers to work towards achieving optimum patient health versus simply providing services. It also gives providers the incentive to improve and innovate
Big Data Trends in Healthcare
In the increasingly outcome-focused healthcare environment, effective use of big data will be vital for the survival of everything from the largest healthcare systems to individual providers. The best outcome, however, will be improved health and lower costs for patients. Some additional big data trends the experts see coming include:
- Wellness, not illness – Data can identify individualized risk factors to help proactively guide patients toward tests, treatments and lifestyle changes that can move them toward optimal health. Targeted messaging to at-risk populations can reduce incidents of long-term health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease
- Focused medicine – Data can allow providers to focus their care to provide only what patients need, exactly when they need it, thereby preventing emergency treatments, optimizing the timing of hospital discharges and better managing patient throughput
- Managed patient data – Sharing digital and electronic images, X-rays, scans and other patient data is expected to become seamless, reducing repeated procedures and tests, and further increasing efficiency
- Personalized medicine – Genetic markers are already identifying health risks while lifestyle choices predict the possibility of health issues before they start. Big data will further personalize medicine by determining the tests and treatments needed for each patient, rather than a one-protocol-fits-all approach. The ability to provide treatment earlier can reduce additional costs and even eliminate the risk of chronic diseases
Big Data in Action
Some of the biggest names in healthcare are already successfully mining big data to meet their objectives, saving both costs and patient lives:
- Researchers from Stanford University helped improve doctors’ ability to predict adverse reactions to medications by compiling and analyzing over 18 years’ worth of physicians’ notes on patient medical records. They hope to further mine the data to determine how various drugs interact with different patient sets, as well as other useful information.
- Insurance provider Blue Shield of California is developing an integrated system to allow health providers and health plans to better coordinate and personalize evidence-based patient care.
- Kaiser Permanente’s new computer system promotes the use of electronic records and eases cross-facility data sharing. The company has already experienced improved outcomes in patients with cardiovascular disease. In addition, a reduction in office visits and lab tests has resulted in $1 billion savings.
Opportunities presented by big data may change the business of healthcare. Big data can help providers of all sizes become more agile, less wasteful, more efficient, and most importantly, it can allow them to improve the delivery of quality care to patients.