Big Data Insights in Healthcare, Part I: Great Ideas Transcend Time
Timing is everything—as Abraham Lincoln learned 153 years ago. Thirty-nine days after becoming the 16th President of the United States of America, Lincoln was thrust into the American Civil War. Although this war was horrendous, many novel innovations came from it. Examples include paper money, canned food, and the standardization of clothing sizes.
The biggest change was in the gathering and communication of near real-time intelligence.
Until the Civil War, electric telegraph messages were mostly used for train dispatch. Although this technology had not been tested in a time of crisis, President Lincoln embraced the electric telegraph and strategically adapted the technology to war.
Mobile telegraph messages provided Lincoln immediate communications among the war room, battlefield, and other key outposts. This fundamental game changer transformed Lincoln’s war room operations. He and his trusted advisors were now able to participate in strategic decisions with the field generals in near real-time.
Lincoln and his advisors saw the big picture. To them the electric telegraph effectively shrunk time and space; there and then became here and now. The value of their strategic decisions was greatly enhanced by the immediacy of the feedback from the field.
What does President Lincoln’s fondness for the telegraph have to do with big data in healthcare? In both cases, early adoption of emerging technologies and the ability to gather and communicate information at the right place and the right time are critical to success.
Recently, I met with the CEO of a company that provides cloud-based and private on-site connected healthcare solutions, including Health Information Exchange (HIE), Virtual Health Records (VHR), and Secure Messaging via NwHIN’s DIRECT protocol. Our conversation focused on what he saw as the biggest barriers to entry for Health Care Organizations (HCO) looking to take advantage of big data. The top issues he identified?
1. Siloed data
3. Data integrity
4. Lack of training
5. Organizational buy-in
6. Maturity and adoption of electronic health records (EHR)
By the end of our meeting we had discussed data, analytics, technology, people, and process. I then asked my most pressing question, “Based on your 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry what, in your opinion, is the real value of big data?”
He responded, “Technologists think that the end of the story is the big data, or the analytics that comes from it. The real value of gleaning all these insights is to embed them in the workflow of the people who need them just-in-time to support actualizing the information.”
The essence of his seemingly obvious thought — putting the insights into the hands of the people who need them just-in-time — encapsulates a key problem for healthcare.
While it is generally accepted that healthcare has the most to gain from big data analytics, it lags in the sophistication of its systems and in its level of maturity when compared to sectors such as banking or retail.
With its wealth of ever growing data, healthcare has at its fingertips unlimited potential to unlock insights that can have real, meaningful, and life altering impact for many.
Before the benefits of big data can be realized, healthcare organizations need to confront the major challenges blocking their adoption of big data.
In Part II of this series I discuss these challenges.