Every day, the technology we use monitors our activities and records data. Whether it’s your internet searches on your computer, a GPS signal on your phone, or the links you post on social media, these actions generate huge amounts of data. The same is true of the healthcare industry.
All of the medical information and data collected during medical visits to your doctor’s office is a goldmine of information. This healthcare information could have a very promising future in the healthcare industry.
What Exactly is Big Data?
Big data is currently broken up into at least ten categories:
- Payer records
- Patient portals
- Medical databases
- Public records
- Smart phones
- Wearable devices (i.e., smartwatch)
- Electronic health records (EHR)
- Data from search engines
- Government entities
With so many categories, interpreting this medical data presents a challenge. It might be difficult to see how we could even process or utilize the information in a way that benefits the healthcare community. However, as advanced technology becomes more widely available, it’s becoming increasingly easier to incorporate that data into existing medical databases.
The Challenges with Big Data
Although the benefits are promising, the use and sharing of big data still brings concerns. For example, HIPAA laws require medical records to be kept confidential between provider and patient. Security measures for electronic health records and other files can limit access, which can prevent the collection of important data. Along with HIPAA compliance, many healthcare providers will need to drastically modify their existing data and IT structures to process and securely store patient data. For many healthcare facilities, this can be a significant undertaking.
Because of the varying types of collection formats, combined with the vast number of collecting agencies and offices, the pooling of data presents another challenge. Until all collecting organizations agree upon a standard for data collection, the use of medical data for research purposes will have some limits.
The Exciting Promise of Big Data
As many professionals will likely agree, the benefits of using big data in medicine would outweigh the current problems. Fueled by advances in technology, everyday apps and programs that track a user’s health are already providing insight into the overall health of many people. For example, users wearing a smartwatch with a fitness/health application are sometimes eligible for discounts or plan reductions through their healthcare carrier. In the future, doctors could utilize these apps for a real-time look at their patient’s health and catch medical emergencies before they happen. This technology could help diagnose a patient’s medical conditions, as well as catch errors in prescription medications.
The ability for patients to get accurate, fast, and affordable healthcare is one of the biggest potential benefits of the use of big data. For instance, as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced and prevalent, computers could access large stores of medical data to diagnose a patient from the comfort of their own home. Providers could couple a patient’s electronic health record with real-time data from a user’s electronic device to diagnose the patient remotely, without an office examination.
As previously mentioned, a patient’s healthcare costs could be reduced by paying only for plans and treatments that are truly needed. The use of big data could also allow researchers to discover correlations between lifestyle and developing disease, which would greatly benefit preventive medicine.
Although significant strides have been taken towards the implementation of big data in traditional healthcare, many hurdles still remain. The infrastructure for processing all this data will take time to build, as well as input and dedication from numerous organizations and entities. However, with the correct investments into data processing and human capital, the possible benefits could revolutionize the future of the healthcare industry.