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Healthcare's Missing a Big (Data) Opportunity

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 11, 2011

The federal government, which is the biggest source of big data, is looking for ways to help the industry use data to improve healthcare. Agencies and offices from the White House to the National Institutes of Health to the National Science Foundation to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT are partnering with researchers and private IT companies to develop tools to harness big data sets. 

NSF has funded several projects focusing on cloud computing to help researchers store, index, search, visualize, and analyze data, "allowing them to discover new patterns and connections," Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a recent White House blog post on big data. HHS has spearheaded many projects, including efforts to ease data-sharing among rural healthcare providers.

And ONC reaffirmed its pledge in its recently released Federal Health IT Strategic Plan to create what it calls a "learning health system" that uses information to continuously improve health and healthcare, and has placed renewed emphasis on patient access to data

The healthcare industry is still struggling to get its arms around big data. Analyzing large data sets is not easy. But health leaders can emulate and implement some best practices, the McKinsey report authors write.

The report points to a few healthcare organizations that are doing a good job with big data, including the Department of Veterans Affairs' health information technology and remote patient monitoring programs. "The VA health system generally outperforms the private sector in following recommended processes for patient care, adhering to clinical guidelines, and achieving greater rates of evidence-based drug therapy," McKinsey says. These achievements are largely possible because of the VA’s performance-based accountability framework and disease-management practices enabled by electronic medical records and health IT.

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3 comments on "Healthcare's Missing a Big (Data) Opportunity"


Beth (10/13/2011 at 11:11 AM)
Nearly 200 people gathered in Minneapolis just yesterday to discuss this very topic at the Healthcare Business Intelligence Summit. The day included excellent presentations and lively discussions. Mark your calendar for next year's Summit. More at: www.healthcarebisummit.com

Patricia (10/12/2011 at 11:23 AM)
Big Data[INVALID]making sense of patterns and trends over time in large databases then doing things differently as a result[INVALID]has transformed every industry but healthcare. The way we manufacture precision instruments, shop for shoes online and manage air traffic has changed forever with big data! Farzad Mostashari gets it right when he states that we need a new mindset, not just more complete data. For starters, I'd like to be able to see my year over year cholesterol numbers in a chart[INVALID]and I'll bet my primary care physician would too. This isn't big data but it would indicate a change in mindset. Making sense of trends over time rather than snapshot after snapshot of a condition could bring about improved outcomes at lower cost....Just like what has occurred in other industries.

Jennifer N (10/11/2011 at 3:59 PM)
The government's incentives can help jump-start the movement of this "big data" into electronic form. It's a huge task not only to share medical data but also to transfer such a massive amount of data onto a new platform. But like this article stated, there are so many benefits to sharing and analyzing big data. There is a great article from OptumInsight that presents a good way to look at how to collaborate on the macro level in order to successfully manage population wellness with an IT framework: https://ignite.optuminsight.com/archive/the-power-of-it/