Big data analytics has, for many years now, had a transformative effect on numerous industries. By leveraging these technologies, companies in almost every sector have gained unprecedented insight into their own operations, their markets and more. However, despite this widespread trend, the health care sector has been slow to adapt, with relatively few care providers embracing data analytics tools.
Now, this is changing. Health care organizations are increasingly turning to big data analytics solutions, with the belief that such efforts can significantly improve the quality and efficiency of the care they provide.
A major factor driving this shift is the proliferation of electronic health records, as mandated by several pieces of federal legislation. Consequently, health care providers now have centralized databases filled with digital version of patients' medical histories, ongoing treatment details and more.
The growing appreciation of big data's potential is not limited to any one corner of the health care sector. InformationWeek reported that a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 95 percent of health care CEOs are currently exploring possible means of leveraging big data more effectively.
Additionally, a recent survey from MeriTalk and EMC found that among federal executives focused on health care and health care research, 63 percent believe that big data will help the tracking and management of population health, and a similar percentage said these tools will significantly improve patient care among VA and military health systems.
Furthermore, 59 percent of those surveyed said that within five years agencies working on health care-related missions will depend on their big data analytics efforts to achieve success.
Big data in action
As InformationWeek noted, many health care providers have already taken steps to take advantage of big data analytics capabilities.
For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPCM Insurance Plan created a database which culls information from a range of sources. This database, which currently holds 6.3 terabytes of data, consists of a wide assortment of information types, all of which are called upon for analytics purposes.
"We use multiple technologies and techniques, including data visualization software that provides a view of highly complex and large datasets revealing underlying and previously unknown patterns and interactions between patients and providers," said Dr. Pamela Peele, chief analytics officer of UPMC Insurance Services Division and VP of health economics at UPMC Health Plan, the news source reported. "We're seeing real progress predicting patient behavior and providing preventative care."
Peele told the news source that the organization's predictive analytics tools have enabled the group to identify patients who are most likely to require emergency care, calculate the probability of readmission for given individuals and more. This knowledge has improved the quality of patient care while increasing the efficiency of operational costs and resource allocation.
Big data concerns
However, as health care organizations increasingly pursue big data analytics projects, it is imperative that firms pay close attention to a number of key challenges. Perhaps the single most significant of these concerns cybersecurity and compliance.
"From my perspective, security and compliance should be discussed from the get go. It should be part of their overall strategy," Manmeet Singh, co-founder and CEO of Dataguise, told InformationWeek.
Big data analytics inherently requires organizations to collect and store vast amounts of sensitive information, and this presents particular dangers for health care providers, considering HIPAA and other regulations. As more health care providers move to take advantage of big data analytics, they must invest in cybersecurity tools and develop strategies to ensure that the information utilized remains protected at all times.