Big Data Brings Healthcare Industry To The Tipping Point

By Sal Casillas

To better understand the patient and respond to the population’s health needs, high-performance medical group leaders are leveraging data science.

Data has been at the center of every major change in healthcare policy in the last decade. From the EHR incentive program digitizing medical records to the rapid shift to outcomes-based payment models, data is now the dominant force in U.S. healthcare. How to effectively use and analyze this tidal wave of information is the sector’s real challenge.

“The information oligarchy is a thing of the past at HHS. The information oligarchy has become an open information democracy.”
– Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Medical groups today operate in an increasingly complex environment, reflected in the volume and ubiquity of data, as well as the growing demand for structural changes in the health industry. At the intersection of two competing but important forces in this new healthcare data world: population health management (PHM) and personalized medicine. Population health management has the potential to make healthcare proactive instead of reactive, identifying at-risk patients and promoting early intervention. Personalized medicine promises each patient a care plan custom tailored for their medical history. To support payers and patients at both the population and individual levels requires technology that can take action with the right data.

Data is changing the way medical care is delivered. Medicine is shifting the emphasis from tracking what medications a patient is prescribed to measuring the effectiveness of the treatment for the patient. Big data is helping with identifying patterns related to expensive readmissions while gaining additional information that can aid in the development of programs for preventive treatments and reducing costs.

“It’s extra information that’s used to supplement the standard medical information, the type that we’ve been collecting for many years,” said Michael Weiner, MD, Director of Health Services Research at the Regenstrief Institute. “There are many common issues that these patients encounter, including issues with disability, taking care of themselves, depressive symptoms and isolation — and other psychosocial issues.”

Although data-driven medicine promises each patient a care plan custom-tailored for their medical history, the greatest impact of health data lies in population health management. PHM creates healthcare that is more predictive by aggregating patients’ data across various health information resources and promoting early intervention. One such target is the prevention of disease and utilizing data for a better understanding of disease pathways and progression in specific patient populations.

To support payers and patients at both the population and individual levels requires technology that can take action with the right data. Despite the opportunities of digitizing, combining and effectively using big data for new techniques to improve the delivery of healthcare, new questions arise with difficult answers for the healthcare industry with such technology: How can data alter the cost curve, and how can data be shared in a secure fashion? True success will be measured in the effectiveness of medical providers to work together across the full continuum of care for a patient and the treatment outcomes across the large population.

What to watch:

Expect to see some interesting developments in how medical practices exploit intelligent apps that leverage data and analytics tools to support both macro-and micro-care management needs. Analytics tools are increasingly becoming a native feature in health technology systems, shifting away from a robust third-party consulting approach. From diagnostics to collections, data is the new frontier for innovation in healthcare.

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