Big Data in Healthcare, Possibility and Challenges

December 8th, 2016 /
Andrey Ostashko
/ 4 Min Read

Big Data has huge applications in healthcare, and we’re only scratching the surface on the possibilities of how it can revolutionize patient treatment.

“Big Data” is one of the big buzzwords floating around tech today. Buzzwords by nature come with many definitions, and to grasp the concept we must understand the term itself. Big Data is referred to as data sets too large for traditional databases to comprehend, but perhaps a more defining one for the purposes of healthcare, from an article by Travis Good on HISTalkMobile, is, “…data of a subject in multiple dimensions. The more dimensions you have on the subject, the more powerful the Big Data and insights are on that subject.” Our main source of data in healthcare is electronic health records (EHRs), and to follow the analogous definition, the subject of our data is the patient. To understand the relevance of Big Data in healthcare, look at the different dimensions patient data in a patient record (from the linked article above):

Patient Info (MRN, member number) Provider Info Allergies Encounters Immunizations Medications Care Plan Discharge Medications Reason for Referral Problem List Procedures Functional and Cognitive Status Results (Labs) Social History Vital Signs Discharge InstructionsClaims Health Financial Amounts Wellness and Care Management Programs Alerts

As you can tell, huge amounts of data are generated through patient records and stored into EHRs. Let’s look some of the opportunities associated with Big Data, and the challenges involved.

The Internet of Things, Care Management, Population Health, and More

The future of healthcare is data interoperability in the sense of harnessing Big Data to improve our lives. The applications of Big Data in healthcare (as well as in life) are almost infinite. Health data company HealthCatalyst lists a couple of interesting applications:

  1. The Internet of Things: Quite simply, the usage of data in everyday life: “… a growing network of everyday objects from industrial machines to consumer goods that can share information and complete tasks while you are busy with other activities, like work, sleep, or exercise. Soon, our cars, our homes, our major appliances, and even our city streets will be connected to the Internet–creating this network of objects that is called the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. Made up of millions of sensors and devices that generate incessant streams of data, the IoT can be used to improve our lives and our businesses in many ways.” (SAS) In healthcare, data is all around us. From fitness devices to apps and heart monitors, Big Data in healthcare has the potential to smoothen out life’s challenges and create a more efficient (and potentially Big Brother-like) world.
  2. Care Management: The continued use of data in providing care, “Electronic scales, BP monitors, SpO2 sensors, proximity sensors like iBeacon, and soon-to-be-invented sensors will blast data from millions of patients continually. Healthcare institutions and care managers, using sophisticated tools, will monitor this massive data stream and the IoT to keep their patients healthy.” Medical wearables are the future, and Big Data will be a huge part of how wearables will grow.
  3. Population Health Management: Big Data holds very real application in population health management. Population health management, defined as the aggregation and analysis of patient data across multiple health information technology resources, is a method of using huge sets of data to improve clinical and financial outcomes. PrognoCIS integrates a Surescripts tool called Medication Management for Adherence that takes prescription usage data from patients and informs clinicians on gaps in care. (Read more about Medication Management for Adherence here).

Solving Challenges in Big Data

The main challenges in Big Data with healthcare are security and privacy. How are we going to manage Big Data so it’s used in meaningful ways, and how do we keep the anonymity of patients if patient data is constantly transmitted to the cloud? We also have to think about HIPAA compliance, which is “non-negotiable” as HealthCatalyst says.

Here at Bizmatics, Inc., we ensure our business systems and PrognoCIS are secure as they can be in an environment where servers and networks are constantly bombarded with attempts from unauthorized information seekers. We conduct comprehensive scans for malware and any external vulnerabilities and upgrade all anti-virus and anti-malware programs.  We upgrade server and account passwords, revise its firewall configurations, implement strict password policies, and upgrade system hardware and operating systems when appropriate.  Additional measures include installing an active traffic-monitoring solution for Bizmatics’ network from Alert Logic, called Cloud Defender. System security is not static but a continuous process, and we continue to review network configuration to strengthen defenses against cyber attacks. Whether it’s Big Data or regular healthcare data, we are committed to keeping patients and clients as secure as possible. The future of healthcare is utilizing data in meaningful ways, with the goal of improving patient outcomes. How the industry navigates between the fine lines of security and privacy, only time will tell.

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