The race to find uses for big data


Smartwatch wearers: have you checked it recently? Did that tell you how many steps you take or how fast your heart is beating? How accurate is the information? What does this number mean for your overall health, and where do all those numbers go once they’ve been reported to your computer?

The healthcare industry is under constant pressure to securely store patient information and always have it available to staff and consumers. However, only 20% of the data is used – what happens to the remaining 80%?

How do we use information effectively? We have collected data on almost every aspect of our life, but we are faced with a situation where we are inundated with an unmanageable stream of data. Can we leverage data to justify storage? If so, what are the ethical considerations?

“Big Data” is the term often used to describe the large volume of information that has been collected in our digitally connected lives. This includes things like our blood pressure and how often we stop at a red light. Data quickly becomes unmanageable and perhaps even unnecessary given our current technology and current uses. Big Data must prove its economic value for the increasing costs of storage.

Finding new ways to use data can justify the additional storage expense, improve medical outcomes, and uncover previously unknown links between a variety of variables.

From an innovation standpoint, companies like IBM, GE and Amazon are in a race to build a system that harnesses this wealth of knowledge. Traditional technologies such as electronic health record (EHR) systems were developed in part to facilitate data storage and create queries to retrieve information.

These systems allow easy access to relevant patient information, reduce medical redundancy and costs, and can also be used with artificial intelligence to find new information and draw new conclusions about medical care for medical personnel and information specialists.

However, the drive to monetize patient data must be conducted with caution and with a keen eye for accuracy and quality. A 2017 Deloitte survey found: “More than two-thirds of survey respondents said third-party data about them was only 0-50% correct. One third of respondents believed the information was 0-25% correct. “

The accuracy of the data in the measurements entered and the quality of the correlations found must be taken into account. In response to the inaccuracy of third-party big data, Deloitte recommends that its clients be more careful in purchasing and collecting information. This more skeptical view of data should exert adequate pressure for data collectors to go beyond the numbers to create real value.

The value of data is not limited to numbers; it is also how the information can be used to improve decisions in the C-Suite.

The opportunities offered by Big Data are vast and potentially overwhelming. However, these opportunities need to be assessed holistically and not just through a cost-benefit analysis.

The accuracy and quality of the data will be essential to create better patient outcomes at a lower cost.

Afua Aning, MD, is a computer scientist.

This message appeared on Kevin®.


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