Big Data have become ubiquitous buzz words for the aggregation of information in data sets and the use of algorithms to define patterns. Overall, the growth of the sector is being driven by the trend towards backing up data in the proverbial cloud, online shopping (which grew 14% between 2011 and 2012 to $42.3b in sales), and all the time we spend posting content on social media. McKinsey & Company predicts a 40 percent growth annually in the data being generated. American healthcare providers currently have $300 billion invested in data, including GPS and mobile apps. With the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR), it is estimated that data could save providers between $300 billion and $450 billion annually (we spend about $2.6 trillion overall on healthcare).
There is no question that Big Data is a heuristic change in medicine. Through the data compiled in EHRs, it allows use of predictive modeling in order to address health issues at a population level. For example, we are able to find out if patients are doing preventive care, taking their medication, and whether they might be at risk for chronic conditions. Population health management is a new, more proactive way to segment patients by need (both financial and clinical) and to target them for outreach. It provides a powerful tool to address hospital readmissions and hospital-based infections. For example, NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) in Evanston, Ill., aggregated 40,000 patients into a data set and analyzed 50 different pieces of data to build a predictive model. This allowed NorthShore to evaluate whether patients might be at a high risk for being carriers of particular bacteria like MRSA, a highly antibiotic-resistant strain.
There are issues going forward such as the barrier that EHRs put between the patient and the physician; in the new tech-enabled world, the doctor might spend the visit staring at the computer rather than the patient. This is a real concern. Doctors have also noted that it is harder to retrieve information in EHRs than from a paper chart. On the flip side, EHRs do provide patients with more transparency, including a portal to their lab tests, billing, scheduling, doctor notes as well as email contact with their physicians.