Where big data has been and where it’s going with healthcare

by Dan Kotok

Big data is transforming businesses across all industries. Companies are harnessing the data they collect on customers—credit card transactions, web browsing activity, social media engagement, and so forth—to give customers higher-quality experiences delivered precisely when and how customers want.

Today, the concept of fully leveraging the volume, velocity, and variety is as commonplace as customer satisfaction surveys were decades ago. By 2022, 40 percent of all large enterprises will combine big data with machine learning, according to Gartner market research.

One industry, however, that has been slow to keep pace with advances in big data analytics is healthcare. This hesitation is understandable. Pharmacies, insurance providers, doctors, and medical device companies all deal with highly sensitive, confidential patient data, and the healthcare industry is regulated by strict patient privacy laws. But as big data has matured, healthcare providers have become increasingly aware that they don’t have to sacrifice patient confidentiality. Not only can using big data help the healthcare industry meet stringent accuracy requirements and quality standards, but big data also is becoming increasingly essential to delivering the healthcare experiences that patients have come to expect and demand.

The reason why I’m writing this series on how big data is changing healthcare is to show you how every segment of the healthcare market can and should utilize big data to strengthen its position in a competitive marketplace, increase patient satisfaction, and deliver higher-quality care. I’ll explain how big data can specifically benefit payers, providers, pharmacies, and medical health device companies. Then, I’ll look at how Salesforce can help you draw actionable insights from your healthcare data—and why you need a trusted consulting partner like Simplus to maximize the value you get out of Salesforce.

In this first part of my blog series, I’m going to look at the evolution of big data in healthcare and what the future holds for this industry. Here are the three most important things to understand about the past, present, and future of the healthcare industry:


Big data has never been a bonus; it’s always been a necessity

Gathering and organizing data to improve patient care isn’t new. Since the dawn of time, humanity has been collecting information to discover new insights or achieve goals. The invention of the wheel, the explosion of trade, the outbreak of the internet—all done by information, or data, put to use.

The reason we’re drawn to data is simple: We recognize that data drives better outcomes. Weatherhead University Professor Gary King, an expert on how to use data in public health and medicine, declared in 2014, “People are literally dying every day” because data is simply not being shared like it could be to improve world health.

Unfortunately, until recently, we didn’t have the technology to make optimal use of the essential insights that big data can provide. In fact, the phrase “big data” didn’t even gain momentum until the early 2000s. Today, the sources that make up big data are vast and varied: AI, mobile, and social media, to name a few. In 2012,  the McKinsey Global Institute estimated we would need another 140,000 to 190,000 workers with deep analytical expertise to handle the growth of big data from all of these new sources. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum declared data to be an entirely new class of economic asset, much like cash or gold before it.

As much as some industries have embraced big data and used it to their competitive advantage, the healthcare industry has historically lagged behind. But this reluctance to embrace big data is now giving way to a new era—one that will ensure the industry finally gets the data and insights it’s always needed and wanted.


Healthcare organizations already are using big data to tangibly improve the quality of care

In Tennessee, big data has been used to predict which patients are at high risk of developing a dangerous addiction to opioid pain medications. Multiple years of patient pharmacy data and patient claims data—742 predictor variables in all—were analyzed to determine which behaviors are most predictive of leading to abuse or misuse case down the road.

In Paris, hospitals have used big data to forecast patient admission rates that can help administrators more optimally deploy resources. A decade of hospital admission records was being analyzed to develop day- and hour-level predictions for patient admission rates.

Google, meanwhile, has conducted research showing that by analyzing the terms that people are searching for in different regions of the U.S., big data can accurately predict where flu outbreaks are going to occur.

These real-life examples are just small-scale examples of how healthcare organizations can use big data to tangibly improve the quality of care.

The volume of big data available to businesses is growing at 50 percent a year, according to IDC research, and the worth of big data in healthcare is expected to grow from $17 billion in 2017 to $68 billion in 2025. (That’s a 19.1 percent CAGR in less than ten years!) That means healthcare organizations will increasingly be able to turn to—and rely on—big data to inform how, when, and where they optimally deliver healthcare services.


Patients increasingly will demand that their healthcare be informed by big data insights

The healthcare industry is shifting toward evidence-based healthcare. Instead of healthcare providers being reimbursed a flat fee for piecemeal services, healthcare providers are being called upon to provide outcomes-based care, where reimbursements are based on the quality of services delivered. Patients, meanwhile, are starting to expect more from their healthcare experiences. They want more insights, transparency, and accuracy. Big data can provide all of these things cost-effectively and at the scale that healthcare organizations will need.

As technology continues to progress, healthcare organizations will be able to collect more patient data than ever before. Personal health monitoring devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches will generate data that will combine seamlessly with data from electronic clinical records, online pharmacy portals, and so much more. The result will be a constant flow of invaluable big data insights that will drive the patient experience and healthcare outcomes.


Final thoughts

While the healthcare industry is just learning how to take advantage of big data, the need for healthcare data to improve patient outcomes has always been present. Now, thanks to advances in technology, the healthcare industry is catching up with other industries—and getting tangible results that, over time, will raise the bar for what patients will expect and demand.

In Part 2 of this blog series, I take a look at the specific ways that big data can be beneficial to healthcare payers.


Dan-KotokDan is a Senior Account Executive here at Simplus. He has specialties in, training user and system testing cycles, end user and support training, business process mapping, LSS project management, implementations, and change management.

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