Big data: from the operating theatre

Big Data has the potential to help solve many current day real-wold problems without being a panacea for every problem that is out there. It should become part of an organisation’s technical arsenal, providing the right solution when the problem is understood.

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“Big Data” has arisen as the new ubiquitous term. Everyone is talking about Big Data and how their business is setup to manage the risks and opportunities.

For some time, I have worked in eHealth sector in Australia. Big Data is arguably one of the most pressing issues facing our health institutions.

The questions which need to be understood properly include:

  • What is Big Data?
  • What capabilities are required to keep up?
  • How do you use Big Data to make intelligent decisions?
  • How do you intend to effectively govern and secure huge volumes of information, while protecting privacy?
  • Perhaps most importantly, what value will it really deliver to the business and patients?

Big Data has the potential to transform our major hospitals, clinics and entire healthcare system. Hidden in the immense volume, variety and velocity of data that is produced today is new information, facts, relationships, indicators and pointers, that either could not be practically discovered in the past, or simply did not exist before. This new information, effectively captured, managed, and analysed, has the power to enhance profoundly the effectiveness, efficiency and quality of the provision of healthcare.

The great paradox is that, as Big Data emerges as a new resource, we struggle to keep pace.

We find it difficult to discover, understand, and leverage the information it contains, to find those true nuggets of knowledge that can improve the lives of everyday citizens and change the world. Although there is more data available, our ability to comprehend this data is reduced. The challenge lies in capturing the streams of Big Data that we need, effectively managing them, and extracting new and relevant insights.

The ability to continuously improve quality and efficiency in the delivery of healthcare while reducing costs remains an elusive goal for care providers and payers, but also represents a significant opportunity to improve the lives of everyday Australians. As of 2010, national health expenditures represent 17.9% of gross domestic product, up from 13.8% in 2000 in the US.

Coupled with this rise in expenditures, certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes, are increasing in prevalence and consuming a greater percentage of healthcare resources. The management of these diseases and other health-related services profoundly affects our nation’s well-being.

Big Data can help. The increased use of electronic health records (EHRs) coupled with new analytics tools presents an opportunity to mine information for the most effective outcomes across large populations. Using carefully de-identified information, researchers can look for statistically valid trends and provide assessments based upon true quality of care.

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