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Big Data May Shape Future Patient Outcomes


Big data is becoming an increasingly important buzz word in the healthcare industry, as it has a high potential for improving patient treatment and outcomes.

“Big data” is becoming an increasingly important buzz word in the healthcare industry, as it has a high potential for improving patient treatment and outcomes.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in the Myriad Genetics case denied patenting of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, yet, the ruling did not require Myriad to release the years of genetic data they had gathered in its studies—critical data that could help doctors nationwide in treating patients.

Thus, the ruling inspired groups of policy makers and academic institutions to launch their own initiatives centered around creating public databases. These databases will include genetic information that doctors, patients, and researchers could use in understanding how to best personalize treatments for patients. This data would also be offered in electronic format, fitting the other large healthcare push for electronic health records (EHRs), and help in earlier detection of effective treatments, target clinical decisions, and more accurately predict patients at high risk.

“A lot of what’s going on today is that there are companies or entities trying to own the interpretation of genome data. A company will discover that this gene is associated with this disease or some derivative thereof and they’ll keep it private. And that’s a huge problem for human health and figuring out how to diagnose and treat patients,” said Jonathan Hirsch, founder and president of the big data startup Synapse.

Synapse is assisting the initiative Free the Data! in building a public database. The advocacy group for Free the Data! says it will help individuals share their genetic variations on their own terms, and with appropriate privacy settings. This information will aid in better understanding of genetics' influence on disease, as well as bettering patient care quality and improving population health. Other institutions, like University of California Santa Cruz and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, have also received grants for mining similair genomic data for research use.

In a recent American Journal of Managed Care article about the “big data” challenge, study authors Dr Julia Adler-Milstein and Dr Ashish Jha, suggested that the smart use of genomic data will be vital:

The potential for big data in healthcare is enormous and exciting. It is hard to find a delivery system that is not thinking about how to leverage EHR data, and researchers are eager to answer new types of questions. Realizing the most from our large national investment in health IT demands that we learn from the newly available data. Doing so requires that we understand the issues of data quality and address them effectively. The solutions are not easy. However, ignoring these challenges could quickly lead us from the hope for big data to the disappointing and wasteful results of bad data.

Around the Web

Myriad Genetics Presses Ahead After High Court Ruling On Patents [Wall Street Journal]

How Big Data is Taking on Breast Cancer — and Big Biotech [Gigaom]

International Initiative Applauds the Supreme Court Decision Eliminating Gene Patents and Announces the Launch of a Public Database for Hereditary Gene Mutations [Genetic Alliance]

Healthcare’s “Big Data” Challenge [AJMC]

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