When one thinks of the government’s initiative to digitize health records, the usual benefits come to mind: fewer medical errors, improved efficiency, reduced costs, and better care. But one commonly overlooked advantage is that large sets of health data will now become available for comparative research.
If used properly, big data has the potential to save the U.S. health system an estimated $3 billion annually, according to a McKinsey report. Maybe even more exciting is big data’s possible impact on health outcomes in specific regions.
Improving Health Outcomes
It’s estimated that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data every day — so much that 90% of all existing data has been created in the last two years alone.
If categorized by geographic location, massive sets of data may help physicians make more educated care decisions by giving them access to a much larger volume of regionally-specific medical information. Access to big data would not only make them aware of what’s occurring in surrounding practices but also speed up clinical encounters by preparing them to treat certain conditions.
For example, if a patient comes into your practice with a fever and scratchy throat, their symptoms may signal the common cold. But if you apply the data available from a program like the Google Flu Project, which tracks the spread of the influenza virus by compiling data from search queries, you may discover a higher prevalence of flu in your area at the time. This could, in turn, help you diagnose and treat the patient faster and with more accuracy.
Can Data Reduce Public Safety Risks?
The University of Connecticut Center for Public Health and Health Policy has partnered with several state agencies to create the Connecticut Health Information Network (CHIN), a collection of sophisticated applications and algorithms that gather health data from various departments across the state.
CHIN collects and analyzes data to determine which programs, services, and treatments yield the best outcomes for the people those agencies serve. It is expected that the CHIN data will shed light on environmental and social factors that affect a person’s health.
If a patient lives in an area with an absence of primary care services, CHIN would rectify this by pushing for access to care. If there is a lack of public safety in a person’s neighborhood, CHIN would identify the need for police presence and request the city’s government allocate more resources to the underserved area.
Because access to care and public safety are strongly intertwined with population health, findings like these would have a substantial affect on the community’s health as a whole.
So now that the technology to integrate and analyze is in place, CHIN is making plans to release the report to doctors later this year.
Data Empowers Patients
At Southeast Texas Medical Associates, administrators are taking big data a step further by transferring the information from the providers’ hands to the patients’.
After care is delivered, doctors are instructed to give patients a treatment plan, providing them with evidence-based metrics that show them how to handle their condition. Survey results show patients appreciate the added value being brought to their care.
Ultimately, these are just a few examples of how healthcare can benefit from regional medical data. The possibilities will grow along with the data and the systems used to analyze it. Stay tuned, as we’ll bring you any exciting updates!