Experts Parse Next Steps in a Big Data World

Two recently published articles put big data in healthcare into perspective.

An article by McKinsey & Company, “The big-data revolution in US healthcare: Accelerating value and innovation,” asks if the industry is “prepared to capture big data’s full potential, or are there roadblocks that will hamper its use?”

The authors note that the combination of accumulated pharmaceutical research and developmental data in databases, along with electronic health records and increased access to public research and clinical trials data, have made the “big data revolution” possible, although the healthcare sector has lagged behind other sectors like retail and banking. They believe that “stakeholders will only benefit from big data if they take a more holistic, patient-centered approach to value, one that focuses equally on health-care spending and treatment outcomes.”

For big data to be helpful, stakeholders must recognize its value and use it, which for some may be a “fundamental mind-set shift,” the authors say. Patients must be willing to make information-based decisions about health and lifestyle, and physicians must embrace evidence-based medicine. In addition, the industry must be vigilant about privacy of information as more information becomes public.

In “Transforming Health Care through Big Data,” the Institute for Health Technology Transformation offers models of innovative uses of data assets that enabled healthcare organizations to reduce costs, improve quality, and provide more accessible care.

The authors of the paper include representatives from the provider, health system, health information technology, academic, and heath policy cohorts. Additionally the paper describes how big data technologies and techniques are “expected to drive decision making at the individual patient, group, and population levels.” Increased personalization and use of clinical decision support systems will drive changes at the individual level. On a macro level, the authors predict that public health management will be supported as condition- and disease-specific data continue to grow, augmented by more powerful technology and, ideally, increased patient and public health education.

The authors recommend several strategies healthcare providers and organizations can use to leverage big data, such as:

  • Implementing a data governance framework. This is “arguably the first and most critical priority to ensure the success of any effort to leverage big data,” the authors say. An appendix describes 10 components that every formal data governance program should have.
  • Engaging providers by rolling big data initiatives out at department-wide meetings and rewarding physicians when they meet standards for data collection and improvement of quality metrics.
  • Fostering competition and transparency by displaying patient satisfaction and quality metrics and using dashboards to help clinicians see the importance of data collection and analysis. Organizations should use simple, understandable tools and update processes to enable their use.
  • Providing flexibility in information transference. “Facilities are demonstrating a growing willingness to deliver data in multiple ways based on clinician preference and style,” the paper says.
  • Connecting data analytics teams to quality improvement teams so that the two can be integrated together.

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