Convention Q&A: How Small Data Leads to Big Improvement in Outcomes

HIM professionals have heard a lot about the power of “big data” in healthcare. But buzz is also beginning about “small data.” At AHIMA’s 86th Annual Convention and Exhibit next week in San Diego, CA, Elizabeth Miller, PhD, CEO and co-founder of DatStat, Inc., will talk about the transformative potential of small data, in a session titled “It’s the Small Data that Counts: Improving Outcomes through Better Patient Engagement”on Tuesday, September 30, at 1 p.m.The Journal of AHIMA asked Dr. Miller to help HIM professionals get up to speed on small data and what they can expect to learn about it at Convention.



Elizabeth Miller, PhD

First, what is “small data” as compared to big data, and can you give some examples?

Small data is all the information about an individual. Your blood type, how many times you swim each week, whether you have a specific medical condition, what medications you take, how many children you have, etc. All of those data points in aggregate over large numbers of people make up big data.

Big data is used to identify trends, to understand patterns across large numbers of interactions, and to ascertain what changes in behavior or treatment protocol are actually changing outcomes. It helps us understand that a decrease in salt intake can decrease the risk of heart disease across the population.

It’s especially problematic trying to use big data to motivate individuals to change and improve outcomes, because in order to motivate behavior change the information has to be personally relevant, value-based, and framed for context. But by tapping into and using the small data, we can start moving the dial on outcomes for individuals and health systems.


What can healthcare organizations do with small data?

Consumers have lost considerable confidence in the healthcare system – both in terms of caring for an illness and even more so from the perspective of getting and staying healthy. Try to recall the last time you reached out to a healthcare professional about your health. Not the care of your illness or your potential illness, but your health.

Given the financial trends that are impacting our current model of patient care, in order to survive, healthcare systems must become more proactive and put more of a focus on the health part of “healthcare.” The transformation from reactive to proactive begins with small data. Technology gives us the capacity to tailor advice and treatments to individuals based on all of the relevant and specific factors.


Are there organizations already using and getting benefits from small data?

Absolutely! Systems such as Geisinger, Sutter Health, and Group Health are ahead of the curve and already reaping the benefits of moving down this path.


Who should attend your session at Convention, and what insights will they be able to take back to their organizations?

Anyone who wants to change healthcare for the better should attend. If you’re working with managed care populations, accountable care organizations, Medicaid or Medicare. Or if you’re working to improve operational efficiencies. If you’re responsible for patient satisfaction, experience, or engagement. Attendees will be able to take back to their organizations an understanding of how small data enables better care coordination, and how technology is used to capture, present, and utilize small data.


Catch up on the news and get insights from AHIMA’s 86th annual Convention and Exhibit held September 27-October 2 in Atlanta, GA. For a complete list of event coverage on the Journal of AHIMA website, click here.


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