6 keys to the future of analytics

By Michelle McNickle
05:47 PM
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A recently released report by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation proves the value of big data is certainly something to take seriously. And as more organizations create plans to make better use of and leverage their big data, Joe Petro, senior vice president of healthcare research and development at Nuance Communications, believes the industry is on the brink of seeing some pretty remarkable things as a result.

Petro outlines six keys to the future of analytics and big data in healthcare. 

1. Organizations are "drowning in information, but dying of thirst" at the same time. According to Petro, one CMIO at Nuance sums up the current state of big data eloquently: "When you're in the institution and you're trying to figure out what's going on and how to report on something, he says you're dying of thirst in a sea of information," he said. "And what he means by that is, there's a tremendous amount of information but a big data problem, and the issue is how do we tap into that to make sense of what's going on?" This question applies not only to the patient, Petro continued, but also to the government's plans in regard to disease and population management. "The issue is it isn't organized," he said. "It's a mixture of structured and unstructured data, and what's going to happen over the course of next several years is the government is imposing a tremendous amount of information for folks to report."

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2. Technologies that tap into big data will become more prevalent and ubiquitous. From a patient's perspective, Petro said, analytics and big data will aid, for example, in determining which hospital in a patient's immediate area is the best for treating their condition. "If I have a huge number of choices, today, you [determine that] by word of mouth," he said. "But the government wants you to be able to look at a report card for various institutions, and the way to tap into the report card is to unlock all that information and impose regulations and reporting." At the center of that, Petro continued, are the various types of IT used to tap into unstructured information, like dashboard technologies and analytics, business intelligence technologies, clinical intelligence technologies, and revenue cycle management intelligence for institutions. "These things will become more and more prevalent and ubiquitous … and [they] will become a lot more readily available to the patient."

3. Decision support will be easier to access. In the institutions, Petro said, evidence-based medicine and decision support will become easier to access as a result of leveraging big data and analytics. "For example, if a patient is suffering from a particular condition, there's a high potential something is going to happen to that patient because of their history," he said. "That stuff is going to be brought up in the front of the care cycle, and the physician will be tapped on the shoulder, so to say." Essentially, it's about a lot more precise information at the point of care. "These are all the things that are going to tumble out of cracking the code, so to speak, of the big data problem."

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4. Information will flow more easily. Petro looked back to his days prior to working in health IT to remember what being in a hospital is like from a patient's perspective. "I always remember sitting in a room with someone who's sick, and you're wondering what the heck is going on," he said. "Then a physician comes in, and you're afraid to talk to them." He said there's a lack of information flow, and a lack of ability for both physicians and patients to make choices. "The interesting part is, that happens all over the place within the workflow," he said. After "cracking the code" of big data, he continued, the flow of information not only will be easier for physicians, but will more easily extend to patients. "For example, I can tap on my cell phone and see there's a 15-minute ED wait over here, and a five-minute wait over here. It's making the availability of data more ubiquitous, and I think it's going to come in plain and simple ways like that, and in more complicated ways, like diagnostic support and evidence-based medicine support in the workflow."

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5. Quality of care will increase to maintain revenues and drive costs down. From a cost perspective and a quality of care point of view, said Petro, there are a number of different areas that will be impacted. For example, if a patient experiences an injury while staying in a facility, the organization isn't reimbursed for his/her care. "So the ability for a system to see that this [has the potential] to happen and alert everyone, so that type of thing doesn't happen to me as a patient," said Petro. "The one way the government is putting pressure on that is you won't be compensated like the old days." Through reporting, Petro predicts, these issues will become less and less common. "They're going to tap into the information, and that's just one example," he said. "There are a whole bunch of things that could happen that are preventable and should be completely avoidable. After tapping into the information, I think that's going to drive down the cost of healthcare."

6. The physician-patient relationship will grow with the help of social media and mobile apps. And this all stems from the need for hospitals to keep patients healthy and out of their facilities, said Petro. "We have this whole notion of an ACO, and hospitals are going to start getting comped for keeping you healthy. In the old days, hospitals made money the sicker you are, and the longer they keep you there, the more they make." Petro predicted that because of this, there will be an "explosion" of mobile applications and even social media, allowing patients to have easier access to nurses and physicians. "It's about keeping [patients] healthy and driving down costs," he said. "Those are the two major areas where there's going to be a lot of stuff going on from a health information technology point of view, all underpinned by the availability of data, and tapping into that."