Healthcare is swimming in data, but what to do with it?

It’s time to take stock of big data so we can move forward and turn it into knowledge, experts at the Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum say.
By Tom Sullivan
12:43 PM
HIMSS Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum

John Quackenbush, a professor of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health, speaking in Boston on Monday.

BOSTON – The healthcare industry is amassing more data than at any time in history but much of it is running on top of legacy technology.

“The average hospital generates 665 TB a year,” said John Quackenbush, a professor of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health.

Speaking at the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum on Monday, Quackenbush added: “We’re awash in data -- the challenge is what to do with it.”

Vik Nagjee, CTO of Pure Storage, said that many hospitals still operate with legacy IT and pointed to one integrated delivery network that maintains a whopping 18,000 applications.  

To that end, Nagjee said hospitals should evaluate where they are now in order to move forward into the world of big data, analytics, AI and machine learning

“Look at any other industry,” Nagjee said. “Finance is risk-averse and they figured out ways to not have such fragile infrastructures and applications. We need to come together to make this happen in healthcare.”  

In addition to modernizing IT infrastructure wherever possible, hospitals also have to overcome the challenges of integrating data from a variety of existing and emerging sources -- and today’s crop of electronic health records can be problematic.

“EHRs are not designed to be a strategic repository to drive better care, they’re designed to optimize billing,” said Adrian Zai, MD, research director of Partners eCare. “How to connect external data? We all know EHRs are not good at it. Finding ways for all data to work together is one of the challenges.”

Quackenbush said healthcare organizations have to focus on delivering the right data, including current information about the state of a patient in front of clinicians as well as outcomes data.

And he recommended not falling for the common misconception that simply throwing a lot of shiny new technology at the problem because biology and healthcare are hard.

“The goal is to turn data into information, into knowledge, and ultimately into actions and outcomes,” HIMSS Director of Payer and Life Sciences Shelley Price said.  

Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer:

 Read our coverage of HIMSS Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum in Boston.
⇒ Change management is IT's greatest challenge in delivering needed innovation
⇒ It takes a lot more than analytics to make population health work
⇒ Go figure: The key to big data is actually small data