The ability of companies to provide great healthcare has always been reliant upon data. Before the widespread adoption of technology, important information came from medical exams, checkups, and direct communication between physicians.
Big data has changed the healthcare industry dramatically, providing an immense amount of value for healthcare providers through deeper insights, improving decision-making and providing patients with better care.
The volume of healthcare data is currently experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 36%. Harry Shum, Microsoft’s AI Chief, believes that artificial intelligence and big data will reshape the healthcare industry through the intersection of AI and genetics (precision medicine). Here’s how the healthcare industry is changing.
Efficient health monitoring
One of the biggest breakthroughs in analytics is the Internet of Things (IoT), where connected devices can generate a massive volume of information and transfer it over a network. In 2015, there were 15.41 billion connected devices. By 2025, this number is expected to grow to a whopping 75.44 billion.
Basic wearables can monitor heart rate and sleep patterns, and there are numerous devices that are used by patients with specific medical conditions. For instance, “A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) is a device that helps diabetics to continuously monitor their blood glucose levels for several days at a time, by taking readings at regular intervals,” Econsultancy explains.
There are even digestible sensors that dissolve in a patient’s stomach and send a signal to a connected smartphone app that can help ensure patients are taking their medications correctly. These devices are highly useful and as a result, are quickly becoming the norm for use by healthcare providers.
2. Instant alerts
The information that’s generated through health monitoring devices can also help healthcare providers provide quick and timely patient care. This is because these devices can provide physicians with instant alerts whenever there’s an issue.
For example, if someone with a heart condition suddenly experiences an issue like a fast or slow heartbeat, a physician could swiftly reach the patient and take steps to remedy the situation.
3. Proactive prevention
Big data allows healthcare providers to analyze numerous factors, including a person’s medical history, genetics, environment, and lifestyle. This can help them better understand their patients’ risk levels for certain diseases and illnesses.
In turn, physicians can practice proactive prevention to reduce the likelihood of a major health crisis and improve a patient’s overall quality of life. This is essential for healthcare companies in improving the quality of the services they provide.
4. Up-to-date information for physicians
Before big data, the flow of information between healthcare providers was quite inefficient. For instance, a doctor would have to either call a hospital or send them a fax, both of which were time-consuming and had the potential for errors. This issue was compounded if a patient needed multiple tests.
But now, different companies within the healthcare industry can stay in the loop with one another at all times. By using big data, a doctor will know if a patient has already had a particular test done at a hospital so no unnecessary tests are repeated.
Hospital staff will also know when a patient has already been given a case manager to prevent unnecessary assignments. This means that physicians will know what information a patient has received previously, allowing them to deliver a clear and coherent message to prevent confusion.
5. Reduced healthcare costs
Healthcare spending in the U.S. reached $3.5 trillion in 2017, which equals $10,739 per person. Not only is it costly for patients, but it’s also expensive for providers. But big data is proving to be a valuable tool for lowering those costs for healthcare companies. According to the Society of Actuaries, “Nearly two-thirds of executives (61%) forecast that predictive analytics will save their organization 15% or more over the next five years."
One of the biggest ways big data reduces costs for healthcare companies is by analyzing trends to predict the patient admission rate so staff members can be scheduled accordingly. That way, an adequate number of staff members are available at all times without overscheduling and draining the budget. Hence, the number of hospital readmissions are reduced.
It’s important to note that there are two major challenges associated with the use of big data and healthcare. The first is security. Any time a high volume of sensitive information is stored and exchanged, it creates inevitable vulnerabilities. Therefore, it’s essential for healthcare providers to use cutting-edge security, such as multi-factor authentication, encryption, and strong firewalls when using big data.
The second challenge is reporting. It’s not enough to simply generate data. Healthcare providers must also make sense of it and create reports that are easy to digest, ideally using visuals. One solution to overcome this challenge is web data integration, which treats the entire web data process as a single, integrated process where information is aggregated and normalized. From there, it can be consumed through charts and graphs for detailed insights.
Capitalizing on the big data boom
The healthcare industry has evolved dramatically in the last 5 years with big data being a primary catalyst for positive change. To put this into perspective, 60% of healthcare organizations used predictive analytics in 2019, which was a considerable increase from 47% in 2018. What does this really mean?
Well, this spike shows that big data is becoming more widespread — not only in healthcare but in many other industries too. Whilst it is too early to say what will happen in the upcoming future, it is clear that more organizations are capitalizing on big data.
But the bigger question to think about is this: How will this all mesh up with new trends like risk-based everything (RBX), augmented reality (AR), the commercialization of artificial intelligence and consumer data breaches?