The healthcare industry has been notably slow moving when it comes to entrepreneurial innovation and the cross-pollination of existing technologies. Today, however, the mounting evidence on the beneficial impact of big data on medicine, hospitals, doctors, insurers, researchers, governments, and individuals means that we are beginning to find ways of integrating this information to improve and simplify healthcare for all.
Here are a few of the perpetual ways in which big data is affecting healthcare today and into the future.
1. Increased Transparency In The Healthcare System
The majority of the already overwhelming amount of healthcare data that exists is unfortunately still not readily accessible over the Internet.
Countless gigabytes of information remain locked within the fragmented silos of hospitals, doctor’s offices, research labs, health insurance providers, and federal government databases.
This system currently prevents transparency of information throughout the healthcare system.
Watson, the famous supercomputer of IBM, has exhibited its dexterity as a diagnostician by considering all accessible human knowledge.
Imagine the medical treatment and discovery possibilities if it also had access to all of our available health data. The more we push to break down the barriers of our existing healthcare silos, the closer we get to the day when every health care provider will have access to their own personal medical “Watson.”
Fortunately, as evidenced by the Health Datapalooza conference hosted by the Health Data Consortium in 2014, venture capitalists invested close to $700 million in digital health startups during the first year’s quarter alone.
This is breaking the Q1 record high for digital health funding, resulting in an 87% year-over-year growth compared to the first quarter of 2013.
This phenomenal demand for new digital health technologies can only serve to expand the availability and integration of big data in healthcare.
2. Decreased Healthcare Costs
Back in 2001, the cost of sequencing an individual genome was $100 million.
The decreased cost and increased speed of genome sequencing means that we are better able to discover, prevent, and treat diseases that we may be genetically inclined to.
Consider the case of the six-hospital system, Memorial Care. Through the tracking and collection of physician performance analytics, they have reduced their average cost per patient by $280, resulting in a savings of $13.8 million annually.
An unnecessarily high percentage of healthcare costs stem from thousands of accidental patients deaths per year, resulting in billions of dollars worth of expenses.
This problem in part stems from clinicians who are overwhelmed with the staggering amount of patient data requiring analysis for correct applications of drug therapies.
Big Data cloud analytics is assisting these physicians and pharmacists with improving medication therapy management by aggregating and analyzing the vast amount of information on drug side effects, negative interactions, and addictive toxicities. This helps to reduce patient deaths, hospitalizations, and readmissions.
Dallas’ Parkland Hospital in Texas utilizes predictive modeling and analytics in their coronary care unit to catalog high-risk patients and predict their likely health outcomes upon hospital discharge.
As a direct result of Parkland’s embrace of big data, they have reduced the readmissions of patients for heart failure by 31 percent, saving over $500,000 annually.
3. Preventative Care Over Reactive Care
The healthcare system as it operates today is reactionary to sickness and disease. Big data gives us the ability to become proactive in maintaining our health instead of reactive to treating illness.
A great example of this is the digital health startup Pixie Scientific’s smart diapers, invented for auditing the health of both children and the elderly. These diapers have the ability to monitor hydration levels and possible infections in the wearer.
Innovations like this help us shift the incentive from our current reimbursement based medical practices to more incentive based medicine.
4. We Will Become Our Own Best Doctors
Thanks to the recent boom in the development of healthcare apps, individuals have the capacity now more than ever to monitor their health without having to rely on visiting a physician for basic health checkups.
The sheer amount of these apps also serves to collectively create an increasingly competitive marketplace for more efficient and cost effective wellness and health services.
Fitness and sleep trackers along with numerous other health monitors have shifted the idea of the quantified self into an era of individual quantified health.
Yesterday, these sensors introduced us to the idea of measuring and recording our individual statistics and signals.
Today, these sensors have evolved to integrate our individual signals with the Internet to where we can access and share our data.
Tomorrow, these same sensors will give us the ability to gather and aggregate our collective health data and extrapolate from it meaningful and actionable interpretations.
5. Welcome To Telemedicine
Even though remote healthcare is still in its infancy, the emergence of telehealth technology will further serve to lower healthcare costs and increase the effectiveness of preventative healthcare.
Starting at $40 per consultation, DoctoronDemand gives individuals the ability to video chat with board-certified physicians and psychologists to have your health questions answered and in some cases even receive a written prescription.
Microsoft HealthVault is a free online service and mobile app that stores your up-to-date medical records and allows you to share them with doctors and others who you’ve authorized. It allows you to input your medical data manually as well as automatically upload data collected from your electronic medical devices, fitness apps and trackers, even your Wi-Fi connected bathroom scale.
The convenience of texting your friends and coworkers has also made its way to your doctor. With PingMD (free for patients) you can check in with your doctor and even send them picture messages through a secure HIPAA-compliant messaging app created for easy communication between patients and healthcare professionals. Through this platform your doctor can track your symptoms, check in on your recovery progress, ask follow-up questions, and even collaborate with other doctors for advice.
6. Increased Access To Real-Time Health Stats
Digital health technology gives us the ability to stream and track in real-time the spread of diseases to investigate where they originated and, using specially developed algorithms, predict where and when they may advance.
From this information we can rapidly develop effective and actionable responses (see the International Telecommunication Union’s Ebola-Info-Sharing mobile app.)
Since then, ITU has developed a method to track the movement of diseases by gathering call data records from national mobile network operators.
During an outbreak, they can analyze phone calls and text messages for health information and updates on local, regional, and national scales.
With the advent of big data analytics, cloud streaming of individual health status updates, and remote healthcare apps and technologies, we increase our situational, and contextual awareness, of our individual and global health.
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