Big data revolution is underway in healthcare. Let’s begin with the increased supply of information. Over the last decade alone, pharmaceutical companies have been amassing years of research and development data into medical databases, while more than half of the physicians are dealing with patient data electronically. These vast databases of healthcare knowledge, including data from clinical trials and information on patients,are actually helping in reducing loss of critical patient information and derive intelligence to develop benefits in healthcare. In parallel, recent technical advances have made it easier to collect and analyze information,ultimately reducing illnesses through data analysis. Beyond improving profits and cutting down on overheads, Big Data in healthcare is actually being used to predict epidemics, improve quality of life, cure disease and avoid all preventable deaths.
With increasing population, models of treatment delivery need to be constantly upgraded and most of the decisions behind these changes are being driven from data analysis and intelligence. The aim now is to understand as much about the patient as possible, as soon as possible, hopefully picking up warning signs of degenerative illnesses at an early enough stage to ensure that treatment is far simpler and cost effective.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Smartphone proliferation has actually changed the ways we measure our “healthy lifestyle.” There are applications like pedometers that count how much one has walked, and calorie counters that help plan diets that are actually acting as catalysts to bring about this change. Recently, the introduction of dedicated wearable devices such as Fit-bit, Samsung gear fit and Jawbone has allowed one to track and upload data to be compiled alongside everyone else’s.
As per research byglobal healthcare data analysts, before long, the users could actually start sharing the data with doctors directly as part of their diagnostic toolbox when visiting them for check-up. Even if a person is healthy, seamless access to huge growing databases of information about the state of health would actually allow detection of problems even before they occur – preparing both the patient and doctor well in advance.
This has led to some groundbreaking discoveries, often because of partnerships between physicians and data professionals. Today, this collaboration has actually given doctors the potential to peek into the future and identify the problem even before its occurrence. To cite an instance, one such collaboration between the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance and physicians, insurance records, actually helped to draw a comprehensive picture of the patient as an individual that facilitated in individualistic and tailored healthcare.
However, the person’s data is not treated in isolation because it is then compared and analyzed with thousand others, which helps in highlighting threats and issues through patterns and trends that emerge during comparisons. This analysis from the healthcare data solutions has actually led to build sophisticated predictive modelling – wherein the physicians are able to examine the probable result of whichever treatment is going to be prescribed. This model is backed by data from other patients with same condition, genetic factors and lifestyle.
Programs such as these are healthcare industry’s effort to tackle one of the biggest hurdles in the quest for data driven healthcare. The medical history amasses huge amount of data but it is often stored in archives accessed and controlled by only certain doctors, hospitals, administrative departments and clinics.
Another example of such partnership is Apple and IBM, wherein the two companies are leveraging the big data health platform that would allow the iPhone and Apple watch users to share data to IBM Watson’s Health cloud, a healthcare analytic service. As per the healthcare data analysts, the aim is to derive new medical insights by including real time activity and bio-metric data from millions of potential users.
All this and more is expected to completely change the way patients will visit and interact with doctors in the near future. In-fact, currently the buzzword because of all these advanced techniques is telemedicine. This is all about receiving medical treatment remotely with the help of computer and internet connection. It is increasingly being taken up as a one-on-one service with qualified professionals. Currently, only Health tap, an interactive healthcare app for iOS, Android and wearable devices, offers such services. All this interactions actually going to generate data trail which can be analyzed to provide valuable information about general trends in public health and how patients can access healthcare even from the remotest places.
Using Big Data in Clinical Trials
Once the doctors decided that the best course for treatment is medicine, then chances are that those medicine shave come into existence because of Big Data and insights generated from the same., Huge amounts of data sharing between the pharmaceutical companies and healthcare stakeholders, including patients,takes place to come up with breakthroughs in medicine development. To cite an instance, it was discovered that desipramine, commonly used as an anti-depressant, can also be used to cure some types of lung cancer.
Personalized medicine is another trend that is emerging. It involves developing customized medicine that suits the person’s unique genetic makeup. It is developed by integrating a person’s genetic blueprint and data about their lifestyle and environment, and then comparing it alongside others to predict illness and determine the best treatment.
Along with this, healthcare data solutions derived from big data is helping fight against epidemics. Geo-tracking of mobile phones has actually proved to be highly valuable in tracking population movements of Africa, which is helping to predict the spread of Ebola virus. This has helped the healthcare centers to set up treatment facilities and impose movement restrictions in places when necessary.
Privacy and Security
Like everything has a flip-side, the flip-side of Big Data is that it has the potential of handing over personal medical data to the wrong person. This is the reason that extreme safeguards have to be put in place, ensuring the information is shared only with those who are meant to see it. Large scale security breaches have actually led professionals from the healthcare sector to call for establishment of UN standards which would regulate privacy and security issues relating to healthcare data.
Inspite of all this, the good that big data analysis can bring far outweighs the potential for the bad. As long as privacy and security are maintained, analysis from the data can actually play a big part in the development of new treatments and add to the knowledge of how our bodies work.