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The Role of Big Data in Emergency Services

Putting the word “big” in front of something can carry a number of really negative connotations — Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, etc. It implies there is this great construct that controls all of these facets leaving us, i.e. the little guys, in the dust.

Big data, on the other hand, is helping the medical industry make amazing and unparalleled strides in treatment techniques, drug trials, and other areas that rely heavily on large amounts of data to be successful. What role does big data play in hospitals and emergency rooms?

What is Big Data?

In a nutshell, big data is defined as a collection of data from both traditional — see: hardcopy — and digital sources. This data pool is a font of information for anyone looking to connect the dots, inspire new innovations, or create new discoveries.

In the case of hospitals and emergency departments, the big data is patient records — diagnoses, treatment plans, drug dosages and many more pieces of information that individually might not seem significant, but as a whole can paint a big picture that can lead to new ways to save lives.

Big data typically comes in two forms:

  • Unstructured data is information that is usually hard to quantify. It’s often comprised mostly of text, and hard for databases to sort through and organize.
  • Multi-structured data, on the other hand, is information in its most useful form. It can be easily sorted and categorized, making it easy for researchers to dig through to find exactly what they’re looking for.

How Does Big Data Work in Hospitals and Emergency Rooms?

If big data allows doctors and researchers to consolidate information from multiple sources into one cohesive, researchable whole, what benefits can that have for the environments in which they are used? Here are a few:

  • It can be used to track doctors’ performances. There are some groups, especially now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in full effect, who believe payments for doctors should be based on performance. While this has not been implemented yet, being able to track the performance of either individual doctors or all of the doctors in a given area could be extremely beneficial to such plans.
  • It can be used in real-time location systems (also called RLTS). RLTS have dozens of different uses, from being able to track and record the location of patients from infants to the elderly, to keeping track of expensive medical equipment. By incorporating an RLTS with a big data-based infrastructure, hospitals could potentially increase safety and security without introducing intrusive measures.
  • It can be used as a diagnostic tool. Using big data allows doctors around the world to build patient profiles and diagnostic maps for diseases and disorders. It could be used to treat everything from the common cold to diseases that doctors may only see once or twice in a lifetime.

What Problems Could Big Data Present?

With any new technology, there is always the potential to run into bugs or ghosts in the machine, and that is one of the things that worries even the strongest supporters for big data in the medical industry. Already, hackers have started targeting medical data because the breaches are harder to track and the payout much more lucrative.

Incorporating more and more information-based technologies will require a much more vigilant stance when it comes to medical information security.

While it has the potential to do great good, bringing big data into hospitals, emergency rooms and other medical venues has its risks as well. Overall, though, the potential good vastly outweighs the potential harm. We can only wait and see what amazing new medical breakthroughs this information will bring.

Image by Anthony Delanoix

Kayla Matthews is a writer covering big data and cybersecurity for websites like CloudTweaks SandHill and VMBlog.

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