Big Data in Healthcare: Easier Said Than Done?

In 2011, IDC predicted the that size of data or the “digital universe” would increase by 48% in 2012, accelerating the innovation of in-memory databases and analytic functionality.  Since then, everyone’s been talkin’ about big data:  what it means and how it will shape US industries like healthcare.

“Healthcare organizations around the world are challenged by pressures to reduce costs, improve coordination and outcomes, provide more with less and be more patient centric,” explains a recent report by IBM.

The solution? Building analytics competency which would allow these organizations to use “big data” to set goals and produce better outcomes more quickly.

According to professionals in the industry, the healthcare space is in the midst of a data architecture makeover. You can see it with the emergence of electronic medical records, advances in medical imaging, huge databases in pharmaceutical studies and the recent influx of medical mobile apps.

In the eyes of many, this is great news for the industry.

Proponents believe that analytics can help organizations in a number of ways, from helping them design and plan policy programs to expanding access to healthcare.  Among other benefits would be the ability to make information transparent and usable, collect detailed performance information and therefore boost productivity, segment customers in order to tailor products and services, improve decision making and finally, big data can improve the next generation of products and services.

Cost savings are another bonus. According to a McKinsey report around the rising trend, the U.S. healthcare system is predicted to see $300 billion of annual savings due to big data driving the execution of strategies proposed by healthcare experts.

But not everyone is overly optimistic about big data, voicing concerns about privacy, human rights and the dangers of allowing analytics to trump accepted scientific methods.

“The tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world. Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control,” Omer Tene & Jules Polenetsky of The Health Care Blog explain.

In another post, Russ Richmond, M.D. says that hospitals are failing to “connect the dots” of the data, which is negatively impacting the ability of health systems to make the right decisions.

“Having ever greater volumes of data to sift through to find critical insights (the proverbial needle in the digital haystack), is a growing problem for companies, organizations, and governments the world over. Sometimes, there really is such a thing as too much information,” Richmond explains.

And with that, the question arises: Is the idea that big data will improve the complex US healthcare system overly optimistic?

What do you think? Tweet us your stance with hashtag #BigData! 

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