5 Surprising Things About Big Data, Population Health, and Your Practice

Everyone’s talking about big data. It’s one of the tech industry’s favorite buzzwords, but it’s also a highly powerful tool in the move to value-based care. As the healthcare industry makes this move, and providers’ reimbursements depend more on patient outcomes and population health, it becomes more and more apparent that the future of healthcare is data-driven.

But what is big data? How does it relate to population health? And how will it impact your practice?

1. Big data is growing faster than you might think.

In 2011, the total data in the digital universe reached 1.8 trillion gigabytes. At enough data to fill 57.5 billion 32-gigabyte Apple iPads, that might seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the amount of data we’ll see in the near future. In fact, by 2020, experts expect data to be produced at roughly 40 trillion gigabytes per day. That’s 57 times the number of grains of sand on earth (i).

2. Healthcare professionals can use big data to improve patient outcomes the same way retailers use it to predict customers’ buying habits.

Retail businesses use big data to find trends in customers’ behavior, and they study those trends to make accurate predictions about how customers will behave in the future. Healthcare providers can do the same thing with big data sets on the populations they treat. Through analyzing data related to patients’ age, social and economic demographics, relative fitness, and other factors, providers can improve population health management and care delivery for better patient outcomes.

3. Big data plays a key role in managing patient risk.

Data collection alone won’t reduce patient risk or improve care delivery. Apply the right analytics to the data you’ve collected, though, and you can significantly reduce patient risk and improve outcomes. With big data, providers can identify behaviors, environments, and other factors that add to patient risk. With that information, they can then identify high-risk patients and take the steps necessary to provide better care and outcomes (ii).

4. You can apply the 4 V’s of big data to population health efforts.

In the technology sector, people often talk about the “Four V’s” of big data. These four elements – volume, velocity, variety, and veracity – can all be applied to health data, as well.

  • Volume – The “big” in big data, volume refers to the amount of data stored, including electronic patient records, medical imagery, FDA clinical trial submissions, and human genetics studies.
  • Velocity – The speed at which data accumulates. Not only is the healthcare industry accumulating more data, but we’re also creating and accumulating it at a much faster rate than years past.
  • Variety – Healthcare data comes in multiple formats, from numerous sources. Only about 15% of that data is structured, like test results and patient information. The rest is unstructured and is gathered through doctors’ notes, imagery, wearable devices, mobile apps, and other sources.
  • Veracity – The accuracy of healthcare data, veracity covers everything from patients’ names to prescriptions to billing codes, and more.

For big data to work for healthcare providers, the four V’s must work together. As volume and velocity increase at astronomical rates, veracity must keep pace to ensure that information is accurate and useful. At the same time, to get clear pictures of entire populations, variety is just as important, and health IT companies must address velocity and volume issues that can arise with data originating outside of medical environments (e.g., wearables and mobile apps).

5. Obstacles remain for bringing big data together for the healthcare industry

So, what’s standing in the way of big data and population health? A few simple but key factors remain, the most common of which are:

  • Lack of IT infrastructure
  • A shortage of skilled staff members to collect and manage healthcare data
  • Resistance from providers and administrators who do not see the benefit of big data and population health

As the healthcare industry shifts toward value-based care, we expect more and more healthcare professionals to see the significant value in healthcare big data and population health. And, as this occurs, we’ll see more practices and healthcare organizations implementing IT infrastructure, hiring and training skilled staff members for data management roles, and embracing big data. Start now, and you can put big data to work for your practice and your patients.

i. http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/06/28/digital-universe-to-add-1-8-zettabytes-in-2011/
ii. http://www.healthcareitconnect.com/the-power-of-population-health-management-an-interview-with-sree-chaguturu-partners-healthcare/