Understanding big data’s big impact on healthcare

With digitization, the healthcare sector is now observing the dawn of an era of open information. This ocean of information is driving industry experts to aggregate insights with the help of big data

By: Diwakar Chittora, CEO & Founder, Intellipaat

Traditionally, the healthcare industry has been lagging behind other industries in terms of big data adoption. One of the major reasons causing this stagnation in the industry is resistance to change. Medical practitioners and healthcare providers are accustomed to making treatment decisions independently, based on their medical analysis, rather than relying on protocols based on big data. In addition to this, the rest of the obstacles are more structural in nature. Many healthcare providers hesitate to invest on information technology due to the anticipated uncertain returns. Despite the overall functionality of their old systems, they have very little ability to consolidate and standardize their data.
Moreover, the nature of the healthcare industry itself also creates challenges. As there are many players in the industry, the sector does not have one easy way to share data among different providers or facilities; this is partly also because of privacy concerns. Sometimes even within the same hospital or any form of healthcare facilitator, important information remains confined within one group
or department because these organizations lack procedures for integrating data and communicating findings.

BIG DATA MAKING INROADS INTO HEALTHCARE
There are several forces stimulating the demand for big data. Some of the major drivers of the rising demand are the escalating costs and consequently the shift in the provider reimbursement trends and the overcall shift in the clinical landscape. The cost pressure is not a new occurrence in the healthcare sector in India since the healthcare expenses have been rising rapidly over the last two decades. In view of the current scenario, the healthcare providers and authorities of the sector have been focusing and working towards lowering the cost of care.
These series of converging trends are now making the industry more inclined towards incorporating information technology in healthcare, in which big data can play a major role.

These series of converging trends are now making the industry more inclined towards incorporating information technology in healthcare, in which big data can play a major role.
The healthcare sector is now observing the dawn of an era of open information. The sector started moving towards progression with the digitization of medical records as hospitals, medical research centers, pharmaceutical companies, and other medical organizations have been collecting years of research and development data in an electronic database. The government and the other medical authorities have also started moving towards transparency and ease with the digitization of years of stored data by making it usable, searchable, and actionable by the healthcare sector as a whole.
People associated with the healthcare sector now have access to an ocean of information. This information is a form of ‘big data’ not merely because of its volume but because it is complex in nature and diverse. Healthcare industry experts and providers are now aggregating insights with the help of big data. Although this practice is in its infancy, it could jointly help the whole industry counter issues pertaining to variability in quality and escalating healthcare spend. For example, a researcher can analyze the data to find out what treatments are most effective for particular conditions or identify patterns related to the side effects of a drug or hospital read missions. He/ she can then cull out other vital information that can help reduce costs for patients and hospitals. Fortunately, irrespective of the enormous file sizes, different database structures and varied technical characteristics, the technological advancements today have the capacity to work with such big data.

Many innovative companies in the private sector, be it established or novice, are trying to identify value and opportunities for the patients, physicians, and other healthcare experts by building applications and analytical tools.
Businesses today are trying to develop a diverse set of innovative tools to better utilize the healthcare information available. With the continuous advancements in the technological capabilities, it is expected that innovators of the industry will invent technology that would be more big data friendly in the healthcare sector. This could also help substantially reduce the soaring cost of healthcare in the country.

CAPTURING THE FULL POTENTIAL
However, it is important to note that the Indian healthcare system needs to go through some fundamental changes in order to make the big data initiatives a success. For instance, there are many procedures that exist in our medical
system which are not fully transparent to the patients and are still not capable of taking full advantage of the insights that big data provides. These procedures need to be either supplemented or replaced with other measures. The authorities of the medical institutions also need to protect patient privacy as more information becomes public. They need to ensure that safeguards are in place
to protect organizations that release information. Despite the benefits of inducing big data into the healthcare segment, there are not too many players claiming the
potential of value creation. Nonetheless, it has definitely set the industry on a path of rapid change and new discoveries. The healthcare industry players, experts, and participants committed to innovation are likely to be the first to take advantage of the big change.

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