Forces are converging to transform big data from promise to performance

Advanced analytics: All systems go

By Bernie Monegain
08:40 AM

This is Part III of our three-part June 2015 print cover story on healthcare analytics. Part I focuses on the first steps of launching an analytics program. Part II focuses on intermediate strategies, and Part III takes a look at the advanced stages of analytics use.

When it comes to providing the right care to the right patient in record time, the nation's policymakers, researchers, doctors and nurses seem on the verge of critical mass, or what author Malcolm Gladwell would call "the tipping point."

Today, healthcare organizations – big, medium and small – have the spotlight shining on the promise of data analytics, and recent government initiatives are providing synergy with ambitious and promising new efforts on the big data and personalized medicine front.

President Obama launched his push for precision medicine on Jan. 30. It's a project led by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD. It's the same Francis Collins who directed the Human Genome Project, which was completed ahead of time and under budget, making precision medicine possible.

[Part I: A beginners guide to data analytics]

[Part II: Clinical & business intelligence: the right stuff]

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the 21st Century Cures initiative, led by Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, and Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, is gaining traction.

"All of us at NIH believe passionately in this mission, and are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and, ultimately, cures," Kathy Hudson, MD, deputy director for science, outreach and policy at the NIH, said April 30 when she appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee that Upton chairs.

"With your support," Hudson added, "we can anticipate a bright future of accelerating discovery across NIH's broad research landscape, from fundamental scientific inquiry to translational and clinical research."

Here are a few samplings of advanced data work occurring across the country.


Many healthcare systems across the country have already started to plumb the data available to them today for insights into how best to treat their patients. Academic medical research centers may lead on this score. However, there are plenty of hospitals and health systems that are showing the smart use of data analytics is not limited to the academic realm.

Take Inova, for example. The five-hospital, community-based health system is located in northern Virginia, just a couple of miles from the nation's capital. Five years ago, Inova put up $150 million to launch the Inova Translational Medicine Institute. Today, the Institute, led by John Niederhuber, MD, former director of the National Cancer Institute, has a team of 65 people – all dedicated to working with genomic and other data to discover interventions and cures for diseases of all kinds.

Among various data projects underway at the Institute today, is one that applies genetic sequencing to babies admitted to Inova's neonatal intensive care unit with symptoms that could be a congenital anomaly.

"We can sequence the patients," Aaron Black, informatics director at the Institute told Healthcare IT News. "We have doctors who come in who specialize in this. The mother, the father, the baby or any other person we think is pertinent to that analysis, we sequence them, run the results in special algorithms and provide those results back to the family."

"The mother, the father, the baby or any other person we think is pertinent to that analysis, we sequence them, run the results in special algorithms and provide those results back to the family." – Aaron Black

Inova physicians have been able to diagnose 60 percent of cases this way, Black said. At large academic hospitals, the diagnosis rate is about 30 percent. "So, we've been able to double that success rate," Black said.

Black credits better sequencing and mature algorithms for the success, in part. Mostly he credits the doctors.

"It's one thing to have computers that are really fast, but you need somebody that can interpret that and filter through things fairly quickly," Black said. "Inova Translational Medicine Institute is really the showcase for what we hope is the future."