How Big Data Is Improving Healthcare

With the increasing digitization of healthcare, the trend of "Big Data" has been gathering steam. According to a new report from digital health consultancy DrBonnie360, there is an estimated 50 petabytes of data in the healthcare realm. That's predicted to grow, by a factor of 50, to 25,000 petabytes by 2020. The report, which I've summarized in this post, does an outstanding job of profiling the leading products utilizing Big Data in healthcare.

DrBonnie360 principal Dr. Bonnie Feldman, a former dentist, health consultant and sell-side equity analyst, identified six ways Big Data is being applied in healthcare:

  • Support Research - Genomics and Beyond
  • Transform Data to Information
  • Support Self-Care
  • Support Providers - Improve Patient Care
  • Increase Awareness
  • Pool Data to Build a Better Ecosystem

The report neatly outlines an "evolving ecosystem" of healthcare companies that are implementing these types of Big Data solutions.

An example of the first type ("Support Research - Genomics and Beyond") is GNS Healthcare, which I profiled on ReadWriteWeb earlier this year. GNS Healthcare builds cause-and-effect models, using large genetic data sets, to determine what drives diseases and cures.

Towards Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine has been a catchphrase of digital health, for good reason: it puts the patient at the center of healthcare.

“Genetic information by itself is useless, unless we can put it into context for the patient," said Sultan Meghi, Vice President of Product Strategy at analytics company Appistry. Indeed, if you replace the word "genetic" with "health," you have a good summary of what all of these Big Data focused digital health companies offer.

One of the most exiting aspects of Big Data in healthcare is the potential to predict - and hopefully then prevent - disease. A company called Predixion Software offers "cloud-based predictive analytic software to hospitals [...] to reduce readmissions and prevent hospital-acquired conditions." It might also be used in the near future "as a tool for prevention of chronic disease – e.g., diabetes."

This wouldn't be a digital health story without mobile devices being mentioned. The fifth type of Big Data healthcare company is focused on "Increasing Awareness." A mobile app called Asthmapolis is an example of this type. A mobile sensor device is attached to an asthma inhaler, which then monitors where and when asthma attacks happen. The device wirelessly syncs with an iOS/Android app, allowing users to track their triggers and symptoms.

This short video from Asthmapolis shows how it works; and also succinctly demonstrates the value of Big Data in healthcare.

What About Privacy?

The report does a great job of showcasing current and future Big Data services in healthcare, but it also doesn't shy away from the elephant in the room: privacy. DrBonnie360 interviewed more than 30 companies for this report and all of them were concerned with privacy. The report states that each company declared "at the very least, adherence to HIPAA requirements, and many claim more."

The report identifies one company, behavioral analytics platform Ginger.io, as having "a particularly progressive view of data privacy, which includes the philosophy that patients own their own data, they can opt-in, choose when and how to share their data and can discontinue data sharing at any time."

Reading this excellent white paper reinforces that Big Data will be a big driver in digital health innovation. The full presentation is embedded below.