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Big Data Offers New Benefits To Healthcare

Big data has become a buzz word in many industries because of the potential benefits it offers them and the acceleration at which the world collects data — 90 percent of the world’s data was produced in the last two years. And healthcare is one area that has much to gain from big data.

According to a study by Accenture and GE, 31 percent of healthcare organizations feel that they’re “significant ahead of the game” in big data analytics. Almost half of the surveyed healthcare organizations plan to invest between 10 percent and 20 percent of their technology budgets into big data analytics.

A recent conference at Arizona State University showed some new ways to apply big data to healthcare operations.

“We’re creating more and more information every year, including pictures, text messages, tweets, electronic health records and research results,” [said Frank Stein, director of the IBM Analytics Solution Center in Washington, D.C.] “All this information provides us with the possibility to make smarter decisions – if we have the ability to find insights in these mountains of data.”

One example is in creating transparency. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has created a new office to analyze the enormous amounts of data it receives and generates and drive better decisions. The group will look for signs of fraud, watch potential overcharging and overly aggressive hospital admissions, and make information available about how people use doctors and hospitals. The latter, being available to the broader healthcare industry and public sector, could become an important tool in better healthcare design and control, with evidence-based decisions replacing hunches or assumptions.

Speaking of evidence-based decisions, there will also be evidence-based treatments. Computer systems, like IBM’s Watson, could in theory analyze complex interrelations and compare competing treatment protocols with short- and long-range results and implications.

Use of big data is already underway in partnership. Intel is working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research on developing wearable devices that could “look for markers of Parkinson’s that couldn’t be perceived by the naked eye.”

The University of Irvine Medical Center is now monitoring patient conditions in real time via data from “heart monitors, ventilators or wearable devices,” whether people are in the hospital, at home, or anywhere in between. Should conditions cross a threshold level, doctors and nurses could receive alerts to take action. And the Jersey City Medical Center is working with consultants to integrate GIS systems and GPS data to get EMS teams to emergency calls faster.

The possibilities are practically endless, and show how computer scientists can make healthcare work better for everyone involved.

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