Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Healthcare and “Big Data”

This is part of my series on Healthcare and Technology. Read earlier article: Smartphones and Healthcare.)

As technology continues to pervade our daily activities the amount of data available to corporations for analysis is exploding (“Big Data”). Yet as recent events have shown quite clearly, many of us fear organizations that seem to be monitoring every aspect of our lives.

Can “Big Data” nonetheless help consumers and corporations alike? New research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that collecting, storing, and mining this trove for insights could create substantial economic benefits for both.

Healthcare is one of the largest sectors of the US economy accounting for 17 percent of the GDP and 11 percent of the workforce. Effective use of “Big Data” can help in reducing the currently unsustainable five percent per year rate of growth of US Healthcare expenditures.

The US Healthcare system has 4 major pools of data:

  • provider clinical data, 
  • claims and cost data, 
  • pharmaceutical and medical products R&D data and 
  • patient behavior data. 
Unfortunately all of this data is not yet integrated to be leveraged effectively to drive down costs. As much as 30% of the clinical data may not even be in digital format.

How exactly can the “Big Data” be used to drive down costs? Critically analyzing large datasets of patient characteristics and treatment outcomes can help identify the most clinically and cost effective treatments helping reduce over or under treatment, both of which drive up healthcare costs. Clinical decision support systems can match physician orders with best practices reducing chances of mistakes. Individuals who can benefit from lifestyle changes can be proactively identified. Fraud detection can be improved. Aggregating “Big Data” for pharmaceutical and medical products R&D can cut down time to bring new drugs to the market, help design better clinical trials, better analyze disease patterns and develop personalized medicine. Public health surveillance and response in case of breakout of epidemics can be improved.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. McKinsey Global Institute indicates that US Healthcare can capture $300 billion in value ever year with potential $200 billion savings on national healthcare spending.

But all this will be a pipe dream unless the Healthcare sector does a better job of allaying public fears about misuse of Healthcare data. We will become more receptive as we see the benefits directly impacting us in terms of lower premiums or improved service. Lawmakers and policy makers need to stay ahead of the curve ensuring that “Big Brother” stories about “Big Data” do not detract us from the benefits that can accrue if it is properly leveraged. The need for establishing a transparent system of checks and balances that protects individual rights while allowing the societal benefits of “Big Data” to accrue will be paramount. 

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