Do I have enough information? While that's a question that tugs on people's minds as they grapple with all sorts of decisions, it may be most persistent, and most significant, to doctors determining how best to treat their patients.
The irony, of course, is that there's a lot more healthcare information available than ever gets used by providers. That's because most of it, while collected, still isn't in usable form.
In 2011, Dan Riskin, MD, along with two colleagues, founded Menlo Park, Calif.-based Health Fidelity.
"We felt strongly that if health IT and healthcare quality were going to become central themes, then the use of broad data would become critical," said Riskin. Thus was born a company dedicated to the rise of big data.
As Riskin sees it, there are three main ways patients stand to benefit from Big Data.
- Big data will improve the patient experience. "The health system is nothing without a good experience," Riskin said. Traditionally, the typical patient experience "has been to get sick and come into the hospital." The preferred alternative, of course, would be for providers, armed with both better technology and better data about each of their patients, to get proactive about caring for those patients. To illustrate, Riskin cited the example of a patient who comes in for a routine check-up. The doctor sees that the patient hasn't had a number of vaccinations. Those vaccinations are ordered on the spot, and by the end of the appointment the doctor has also set the patient up with a wellness regimen that will include access to professional nutrition and exercise advice.
- Big data will help unearth inconsistencies. As Riskin sees it, quality is not measured in healthcare nearly as much as it should be. "To use data properly," he said, "we have to find the inconsistencies in the way care is delivered. If we don't find those inconsistencies, we don't fix the problems." To highlight the extent of the problem, Riskin said there are nearly 600 quality measures that can be used to measure quality of care, but current regulations only require about 15 of them to be measured and improved upon, largely because the data that would facilitate the development of more quality measures hasn't been tapped into. Proper use of big data, he said, can change that.
- Big data will help identify best practices. "There is a massive set of unknowns when it comes to best practices for care," Riskin said. In an age when "evidence-based" is nearly everyone's mantra, determining the right care for the right patients means being able to pore through mountains of data. "The complexity of some issues is massive," Riskin said, but the improved analytical capacity that accompanies a focus on big data will result in the development of a more comprehensive and effective set of best practice guidelines.
As Riskin sees it, to date the healthcare sector has only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what big data will yield. And for patients, he said, one of the primary benefits will be "shortening the pathway to care decisions from hours to minutes."