Everyone is Talking about Big Data

July 20, 2012

Several new publications about Big Data in healthcare are showing up with good analysis of this emerging field.

First, an article from PharmExec called “Super-Size Me: Optimizing the Information Explosion” which came out in May.  They note new sources of information including:

  • Electronic Medical Records
  • Social Media
  • Real world evidence
  • Personalized medicine
  • Track and trace systems

They see significant potential value in big data:

» Uncover unmet needs
» Assess the feasibility of clinical trial designs and recruit trial subjects
» Demonstrate product value
» Conduct pharmacovigilance
» React more quickly to market changes via real-time market measurement and sophisticated KPIs
» Enhance commercial activities and enable more personalized messaging
» Deploy predictive capabilities rather than retrospective analytics

And next they note the layers of technology required:

  • Collection, Aggregation, and Storage
  • Analytics
  • Reporting.
The starting point for healthcare organizations is “setting the company’s technology strategy and designing the architecture for internal systems” among other tasks.
A more recent article is by Pew Internet titled, The Future of Big Data, focusing on the year 2020.
It notes that, “An equivalent amount of data is generated by people simply going about their lives, creating what the McKinsey Global Institute calls “digital exhaust”—data given off as a byproduct of other activities….”  It is not only human generated data that is cause for this growth but even more so data from sensors as computing and data generation becomes pervasive.  Citing a McKinsey report on some important points -” that big data is  ” replacing/supporting human decision making with automated algorithms and innovating new business models, products, and services.”
The survey results include opinions one the positive but also negative consequences of the future of big data.
  • “Nowcasting,” real-time data analysis, and pattern recognition will surely get better.
  • The good of Big Data will outweigh the bad. User innovation could lead the way, with “do-it-yourself analytics.”
  • Open access to tools and data “transparency” are necessary for people to provide information checks and balances. A re they enough?
  • The Internet of Things will diffuse intelligence, but lots of technical hurdles must be overcome.
  • Humans, rather than machines, will still be the most capable of extracting insight and making judgments using Big Data. Statistics can still lie.
  • Respondents are concerned about the motives of governments and corporations, the entities that have the most data and the incentive to analyze it. Manipulation and surveillance are at the heart of their Big Data agendas.
A good summary addresses some of these varied opinions: “Overall, the growth of the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Big Data’ will feed the development of new capabilities in sensing, understanding, and manipulating the world. However, the underlying analytic machinery (like Bruce Sterling’s Engines of Meaning) will still require human cognition and curation to connect dots and see the big picture.”
It is good to see a strong interest in Big Data in healthcare. What is missing is technical approaches to big data in health care. Particularly, there is a need for more organizations to be exploring technologies like NOSQL, Hadoop database architecture in healthcare including the development of interest groups and conferences on specific technical approaches like this.
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