Three Ways Big Data Impacts the Healthcare Industry

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The New York Times recently published a story outlining the potential benefits and dangers in predictive health analytics. The article, “When a Health Plan Knows How You Shop” highlights an experiment by the insurance division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to incorporate information like household incomes, education levels, and marital status into its forecasting models for future use of health services.

The idea that health insurers and hospitals are looking for more data to improve patients’ outcomes puts healthcare on a collision course with Silicon Valley. Many platforms, for instance, are being developed in incubators and by entrepreneurs who see the opportunity to leverage mobile health (or mHealth) in combination with data to fundamentally transform care and health management.

For example, Google and Apple both unveiled technology in June aimed at the healthcare industry. Google rolled out Google Fit, a platform that lets app developers share data between apps to give users a comprehensive picture of their health and fitness levels. And Apple introduced HealthKit, another platform that makes it easier to aggregate and centralize health data.

When combined with a wearable device, these technologies could enable patients to transmit data like their heart rate or blood pressure to a physician in real time. Doing so could provide doctors with more insights into a patient’s activities and vital statistics, while reducing doctor visits.

In addition, while consumers are already educating themselves about their own health and healthcare via websites like WebMd and the Mayo Clinic, consumers can combine this knowledge with individualized data for a better understanding of their health.    

Hospitals and caregivers also need the infrastructure to store and transmit the patient data. Vendors like Salesforce and IBM are developing cloud-based platforms designed for healthcare companies that could enable hospitals to remotely monitor patients with chronic illnesses without the extra cost of supporting their own servers. This is important given that the Affordable Care Act is pressuring hospitals and caregivers to provide more remote care and drive down costs, providing more momentum for health organizations to embrace cloud-based solutions.  

Big Data integrations are positioned to alter the ways that physicians, patients, and health insurers interact with each other and allow for ongoing improvements in care. But, as the New York Times article points out, many questions still remain about the accuracy of the data that is combined with other patient information and its true value.

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