Big data analytics in healthcare: Opportunities and obstacles

In a HIMSS20 Digital session, one expert spells out what healthcare can derive from big data, and what stands in the way of that innovation.
By Bill Siwicki
01:23 PM
Big data analytics in healthcare: Opportunities and obstacles

Big data analytics are an essential business component deployed by modern healthcare organizations to collaborate and derive business value from disparate data. There are many clinical, financial and administrative opportunities to be had by provider organizations. But there are hurdles to getting there.

Rob McDonald, executive vice president for platform at Virtru, a data-security technology company, talks about the opportunities and obstacles – and the security issues that come along with big data – in his recent HIMSS20 Digital educational session, How to Innovate with Big Data Analytics While Maintaining Security and Privacy.

Made for each other

Good healthcare demands robust analytics, said McDonald.

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“We’ve always known this, as we’ve leveraged every possible data source within the healthcare community and the various disciplines within healthcare to generate better outcomes for the patients or the population at large. We know this,” he said.

“But the use of various different healthcare system providers and the contacts and encounters across multiple providers has highlighted the need to be able to access the more aggregate cross-silo data to really generate the value that we know can be generated with this body of data.”

So today there is an expectation, and it is turning out to be true, that big data analytics is growing in healthcare more than any other vertical, he noted. Not just across direct caregiving, he added, but across cost-management-reduction research and other areas like response to outbreaks, population health management and global epidemiological trends.

“So this is good for us as we try to think about the opportunity that lies ahead of us,” McDonald stated. “This is an opportunity, because we are seeing this growth in adoption and support. But we have to be good stewards of this. We have to be sure to instill the trust to gain access to this opportunity and fulfill our missions that we are all embarking on.”

Jumping the hurdles

Beyond the opportunities come the obstacles to big data analytics in healthcare.

“Data owners, whether they are organizations or individuals, those that are contributing this valuable data that is being used for a lot of these research programs and actually active care-coordination internally, they are asking more questions today,” McDonald noted. “You see this surface in privacy regulations. You see this surface in increased general public sentiment of how these technical vendors and technical institutions are managing the data being contributed.”

So the question becomes, "How is the data being protected?"

“If I am going to contribute this, whether knowingly or unknowingly, how is it being protected?” he asked. “What are you doing to ensure I can trust you? Equally important are all of the institutions across the entire fulfillment life cycle of healthcare, the algorithmic innovation and research and development. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, a lot of intellectual property being created. It’s the constant battle between, ‘Yes, I want that data,’ and, ‘Yes, I want to contribute my learning,’ and these two need to come together to actually get the value.”

Protecting the algorithm

Then there is the protection of the algorithm, so that when those two things come together, it is certain that the intellectual property is protected, he said. There is also the bias and integrity of the algorithm, he added. These are major questions that must be answered, and they are shaping the privacy and compliance landscape that the industry is facing today, he said.

“It’s our job to define a pathway to unlock the value that we know we can unlock and reduce the administrative burdens and hurdles so that we forge a path to shaping privacy and compliance and the expectations of the community without that being imposed back on us,” McDonald said.

“We are the subject-matter experts in many cases, and it’s our responsibility to show what’s possible, not simply to comply,” he explained. “We want to show what’s possible, so that we can build a new frontier of open collaboration in a privacy-preserving way, and in a way that provides control.”

McDonald goes into great detail about maintaining security and privacy with big data analytics in his HIMSS20 Digital session. To attend, click here.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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