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The Impact of Big Data on the Healthcare Industry

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By: Evan Morris

April 3, 2020

Rapid technological advancement in recent times has seen Big Data infiltrating across industries pushing many verticals to adopt technology that supports better analytical capabilities. The healthcare industry is no exception to this growing trend with big global data in the healthcare market expected to reach $34.27 billion by 20221 at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 22.07%.

Why has Big Data become such a buzzword in the healthcare industry?

In this post, we will discuss how it is impacting the healthcare sector, what the implementation challenges are, and how the larger Big Data ecosystem in healthcare works.

What is Big Data In Healthcare?

Big Data in Healthcare essentially refers to the vast quantities of clinical, patient, consumer, and physical data (collecting, analyzing, and leveraging) that is too complex or huge to be understood by traditional data processing tools.

Solving the problem of how to collect all the data and quickly analyze it to produce actionable insights, Big Data technologies allow healthcare organizations to be able to consolidate and analyze these massive data sets in order to discover trends and make more accurate predictions.

The rapid rise of healthcare Big Data is largely the outcome of the complete digitization of healthcare information. Apart from this, the advent of value-based care is also pushing the healthcare industry to use data analytics and Big Data to make strategic business decisions.

Traditionally, the challenges faced by healthcare data were at four different levels - volume, velocity, variety, and veracity – that have prompted health systems to adopt advanced technology capable of collecting, storing, and analyzing huge volumes of data/information to produce actionable insights.

Big Data Applications in Healthcare Industry

Here are some of the Big Data examples transforming the healthcare industry for the better:

  • Enhanced Patient Outcomes

Big Data helps healthcare organizations improve patient outcomes by assisting doctors and other medical professionals to be more accurate and efficient with their diagnoses and treatments. Leveraging the data analyzing methods offered by Big Data, healthcare providers can provide better and effective solutions to rare illnesses.

  • Drive Innovation

Big Data allows the organizations in the healthcare segment to drive innovation by speeding up the rate at which new drugs and treatments can be discovered, and the quality of care is enhanced. The primary objective of using Big Data in healthcare is to systematically identify problems followed by finding innovative solutions to help organizations lower the overall cost. The process could potentially benefit multiple stakeholders in medical processes such as healthcare providers, patients, manufacturers, and insurers.

  • Reduced Cost

Predictive analytics is one area that's helping the healthcare industry reduce medical costs substantially. It allows healthcare institutions to predict the accurate cost of a procedure with respect to staff allocation and help them efficiently plan their resources. McKinsey & Company's research also showed that Big Data could help the healthcare sector save anywhere between $300 billion to $450 billion a year. Further, data analytics help streamline and reduce costs of processing insurance claims, also enabling patients to get their money faster.

  • Health Tracking

Big Data plays a critical role in helping the healthcare institutions in active analysis of the patient's vitals such as heart rate, sleep, exercise, and more. This kind of detailed tracking and health data portability between providers offers essential information on vital parameters like monitoring of a patient's pulse rate, sugar levels, blood pressure, and more to allow organizations to plan and implement preventive healthcare solutions.

  • Enhanced Security and Reduced Fraud

The personal data in the healthcare industry is extremely valuable, and any breach can have dramatic consequences. An increasing number of organizations are using data analytics to help prevent security threats by identifying suspicious network behavior that reflects a potential cyber-attack. With advances in security such as firewalls, anti-virus software, and encryption technology, etc., the chances of fraud get reduced.

  • Better Patient Engagement

Another way in which Big Data helps the healthcare sector is by improving patient engagement. Mobile apps and Smart devices enable patients to easily track their own medical information, such as keeping track of their heart rate during a workout.

All this data is then stored in the cloud allowing the doctors to access and analyze it to be able to keep an eye on their patients. This practically eliminates the need for patients to visit the medical facilities for regular unnecessary checkups.

  • Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

One of the most widespread applications of Big Data in healthcare, EHRs, allows patients to have their own digital records, including detailed medical history, demographics, laboratory test results, allergies, and more. Further, EHRs can also trigger reminders and warnings to track if a patient has been following doctors' advice or when a patient should get a new lab test.

The Healthcare Analytics Next Level

Healthcare organizations have been looking for ways to make the best use of data to achieve enhanced patient satisfaction and make a smooth transition to value-based care.

With a growing Big Data ecosystem and data lakes - an architecture that allows organizations to store, use and share high-volume, high-variety, high-velocity data in a centralized repository for real-time analytics - organizations are able to unite disparate data from across hospital systems.

This transition to data lakes has helped them effectively shift their culture and create a systematic, data-driven approach to problem-solving. An excellent example of this is the Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona. The hospital uses the data lake to collect and store information for medication and patient analysis, freeing previously siloed data to provide better patient care.

Data lakes, if managed effectively, also allow healthcare organizations to pull in vast amounts of structured and unstructured data in real-time. This data can be ingested from anywhere such as log files, social media feeds, Internet of Things sensors, videos, and online transaction processing systems.

Healthcare organizations that successfully generate business value from their data lakes stand better chances to outperform their peers as it helps them to identify and act upon opportunities for business growth faster by making informed decisions.

Challenges in Effective Implementation of Big Data Solutions in Healthcare

Although the benefits and future of Big Data in healthcare are promising, there are few obstacles to deal with as well.

Here are some of the main challenges which an increasing number of healthcare organizations face ineffective Big Data Implementation:

  • Managing security and privacy of patients' health data
  • Data aggregation for detailed analysis
  • Budget constraints for effective Big Data Implementation

Bottom Line

There are tremendous advantages of digitizing and effectively applying Big Data to healthcare. Using big data, healthcare organizations can not only detect diseases at much earlier stages to treat them effectively but also create comprehensive and personalized patient profiles.

Big data analytics collectively have the potential to improve various aspects of the healthcare domain, including medicine, technology, & finance, and can steer the industry towards a more efficient and cost-effective future.

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