Big data: the lifeblood of precision medicine

'We need to find the right data sets and workflows, and we can do this in the context of insights gained from population-level data.'
By Diana Manos
07:49 AM
Blood vessel

Perhaps second only to a learning health system, precision medicine is healthcare's grandest vision today.

The idea is to essentailly roll together massive population health data sets with individuals information – including genomics, lifestyle, chronic conditions – then analyze it to more effectively tailor treatments and preventative care plans for patients.

At the heart of that, of course, is data. And that is going to require a major shift in terms of both business philosophy and technologies.

"Healthcare needs to become more of a data-driven enterprise," said Kenneth Mandl, MD, chair of biomedical informatics and population health at Boston Children's Hospital.

Mandl is slated to keynote at the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum, Nov. 5-6 in Boston.

Whereas big data is the life blood of many industries Mandl, who is also a Harvard Medical School biomedical informatics professor, said that is not yet the case for healthcare organizations. Rather, the sector is overflowing with missed opportunities to improve care and reduce costs.

[Learn more: Meet the speakers at Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum.]

Mandl joined Boston Children's Hospital's Computational Health Informatics Program in 1995 and has been instrumental there in pioneering the use of IT and big data for population health, discovery, patient engagement, and redesign.

He explained the difficulty as this: Today, evidence for care is collected through traditional, randomized clinical trials, which are then published in medical journals. Doctors or guideline committees try to apply that information to individual patients – even if the patient doesn't necessarily fit.

"It's 'imprecision medicine,'" he said, "because physicians need to use data pertinent to their patients."

Hence, the value of big data. The advent of electronic health records, added to the data patients can collect from home about themselves, can be used to drive more personalized therapy, he added.

"We need to find the right data sets and workflows, and we can do this in the context of insights gained from population-level data," Mandl explained. "Big data will drive precision medicine, not just for cancer, but also across all healthcare."

In his keynote, titled "Welcome to the Big Data Revolution: Changing the Face of Healthcare," Mandl will name the ways big data is valuable

Information can be used to help define patients more specifically, for instance, and allow for better taxonomies of disease. This will, in turn, help to find background risk for patients, allowing physicians to intervene for better outcomes.

"There are many, many interesting opportunities," he says.

Register for the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum, which runs Nov 5-6 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.