What’s Big Data Got To Do With It?

Ever wonder what a writer is talking about when they mention ‘Big Data’ in an article or report?

Most people who use that term in reference to healthcare are talking about the analysis and use of large quantities of data taken from many patients to predict the most effective treatments for various illnesses. There are many variations on this theme. Being able to gather information on many thousands of patients allows large enough sampling to safely draw conclusions about variables that have never before been systematically studied. Inclusion of socioeconomic information with diagnostic and treatment data across many illnesses is one of those arenas. Genetic information may be next up. Public health experts consider such population health studies to be the only hope of an effective and affordable healthcare system.

FierceHealthIT Newsletter produced a special report on data and population health that you might find interesting. (You will need to sign up for the newsletter, but you might find it interesting to take a look at.) According to the article:

Population health management has the power to transform healthcare, but that won’t happen without robust data and use of analytics.

Providers and researchers across the country are trying to find ways to leverage the endless mounds of data entering the system and use it to improve the care of patients in hospitals, communities, states and beyond.

One of the big arguments in favor of the use of electronic health records (EHRs) is that they will make the aggregation of de-identified data feasible. Hospitals and healthcare systems, Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), community mental health organizations and physician practice groups . . . all are gathering lots of information that population specialists hope will allow us to provide higher quality care.

Behavioral healthcare providers like private practices hear the words “big data” and wonder what this has to do with them. According to Behavioral Healthcare Magazine, ‘Big Data’ is already here. Benjamin Springgate, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine and public health at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center says in the article that you may be participating in such research indirectly without even realizing it.

Springgate says that smaller behavioral health organizations might not believe big data is relevant to them. However, they might not realize that they are already participating in big data research indirectly.

“They are participating by the fact that they accept insurance,” he says. “Insurers, particularly managed care companies, are very good aggregators of data and are good at finding ways to translate the data they aggregate into care programs, quality initiatives or value programs.”


Public health experts become eloquent when they talk about how gathering and analyzing all this data will help patients. I am usually skeptical that such information will actually be used for the patient’s benefit—at least, in the short run. I can easily imagine it used by insurers to save money by denying treatment.

What’s your take on how ‘big data’ will impact you and your patients? Please share your comments below.

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