The healthcare industry has been gearing up to make key innovations for patients. Insurers are paving the way by putting forth significant efforts to put consumers’ minds at ease regarding higher-priced premiums. With consumers already feeling like they take on the lion’s share of healthcare costs, they have started ” to demand more tools from their payers and providers to make better decisions about the cost and quality of their care” (Source: HealthITAnalytics.com). This has prompted healthcare-based companies to take a closer look as well, by utilizing big data as a tool that could ultimately help advance medicine even further, as the data might be able to detect diseases earlier and possibly prevent, if not alleviate, some diseases.
Is All of the Hype Worth It?
While the notion of having data readily accessible may seem like a goldmine, it really doesn’t matter if the information isn’t used properly. In fact, “the big data promise has not yet been realized to its potential as the mere availability of the data does not translate into knowledge or clinical practice. Moreover, due to the variation in data complexity and structures, unavailability of computational technologies, and concerns of sharing private patient data, few projects of large clinical data sets are made available to researchers in general” (Source: AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings Archive).
So, it begs the question: are we really ready for what big data has to offer?
Applications Continue to Emerge
Five big data applications leading in the healthcare space include: electronic health records (EHRs), real-time alerting, enhancing patient engagement, prevent opiod abuse, and informed strategic planning. Electronic health record deals with each patient having their own digital record about their health. This includes “demographics, medical history, allergies, laboratory test results etc. Records are shared via secure information systems and are available for providers from both public and private sector. Every record is comprised of one modifiable file, which means that doctors can implement changes over time with no paperwork and no danger of data replication. EHRs can also trigger warnings and reminders when a patient should get a new lab test or track prescriptions to see if a patient has been following doctors’ orders.” Real time alerting deals with a software called Clinical Decision Support (CDS), which “analyzes medical data on the spot, providing health practitioners with advice as they make prescriptive decisions” Enhancing patient engagement is the use of trackable data to identify health risks. These come in the form of heart monitors and activity trackers.
Companies are also developing their own applications. Third-party insurer Bind Benefits is building technology that is design to “combine big data analytics and machine learning with a consumer-driven benefit design that places price transparency at the center of the process of seeking care.” The program will divide “services into ‘core’ benefits – ACA-compliant preventive, emergency, and pharmacy coverage with no deductible – and ‘add-ins,’ which are available a la carte to beneficiaries at any point during the year” (Source: HealthITAnalytics.com).
Other Interesting Innovations
Another innovation that is taking place comes from the work over at Fuzzy Logix, as analyst say that they can ” identify 742 factors that predict a high degree of accuracy whether someone is at risk for abusing opiods.” This can go a long way in creating a plan that will allow for better administration of the drug and the ability to work with treatment centers that can have information on hand when patients exhibit signs that was found in the data.
Another innovation in big data is better insights into people’s motivations, where care mangers can analyze check-up results among people in different demographic groups and identify what factors discourage people from taking up treatment. University of Florida made use of Google Maps and free public health data to prepare heat maps targeted at multiple issues, such as population growth and chronic diseases. Subsequently, academics compared this data with the availability of medical services in most heated areas. The insights gleaned from this allowed them to review their delivery strategy and add more care units to most problematic areas.
Other innovations that big data might unmask would be possible treatments or cures for cancer. Lebied says that “Medical researchers can use large amounts of data on treatment plans and recovery rates of cancer patients in order to find trends and treatments that have the highest rates of success in the real world. For example, researchers can examine tumor samples in biobanks that are linked up with patient treatment records. Using this data, researchers can see things like how certain mutations and cancer proteins interact with different treatments and find trends that will lead to better patient outcomes.”
While big data is considered “big business,” it also has its drawbacks. If companies are careful about how this data is manipulated, its initiatives could prove extremely fruitful. If handled carelessly, it could prove extremely fatal.
One example is health insurer Anthem. In its quest to be innovative with big data, the company has had multiple data breach class action lawsuits. The company was the subject of a $115 million lawsuit in June 2017, where it was accused of “failing to properly encrypt consumer data.” In the lawsuit, it further states that “federal authorities warned the company that the lax security around its high value data would make it an ideal target for hackers.” The data breach included users’ social security numbers and their dates of birth, which are two vital pieces of any individual’s personal information. Also, in the breach, “names, addresses, medical records, and financial information.” Because of this breach, the company had to update its security systems. The company had to also set aside $15 million of the fund for out-of-pocket expenses.
Again…Is It Worth It?
While big data is considered “big business,” it also has its drawbacks. If companies are careful about how this data is manipulated, its initiatives could prove extremely fruitful. If handled carelessly, it could prove extremely fatal. Therefore, it is up to us as consumers to embrace the technology but be mindful of how its being used. Ask questions when visiting your healthcare provider, and make sure your information is safely handled. Also, continuously monitor your information, and act quickly when you notice changes that you did not authorize. Taking these steps will allow society as a whole to embrace and enjoy this all that big data has to offer. So, in sum, yes, we’re ready.
Lebied, Monica. (2018, July 8). 12 Examples of Big Data Analytics In Healthcare That Can Save People. Retrieved from https://deloitte.wsj.com/cmo/2019/01/06/anthem-takes-aim-at-allergies-with-ai-driven-data-trial/
Samara Rosenfeld. (2019, January 24). IBM, Aetna, Anthem & Others Announce Collab to Create a Blockchain Network. https://www.idigitalhealth.com/news/major-health-companies-announce-collab-to-create-a-blockchain-network-
Sweeney, Evan. (2017, October 20). Anthem’s New Digital Hub Offers All-in-One Platform for Benefits Claims and Wellness Data. Retrieved from https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/technology/anthem-engage-digital-platform-claims-data-wellness-member-engagement.