Turning Big Data into Actionable Wisdom

Although people seem to assume Big Data will answer all questions and improve quality of care while increasing efficiencies, the healthcare industry needs to focus on what data is actually actionable, according to John Halamka, MD, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess.

Although people seem to assume Big Data will answer all questions and improve quality of care while increasing efficiencies, the healthcare industry needs to focus on what data is actually actionable, according to John Halamka, MD, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess.

Dr Halamka spoke about Big Data at his session at the US News Hospital of Tomorrow conference in Washington, DC, held October 6-8, 2014.

Prior to his session, he explained that his job is to take data from various sites of care and co-mingle it to identify where the data can be used to analyze gaps in care.

“We can look at who might be getting too much care, too little care,” Dr Halamka said. “Where can we do a home visit? Where can we make an intervention that will keep these people from becoming a super-utilizer in the future?”

The key, he said, is turning the raw data into something actionable.

“Don’t give me 10,000 normal blood pressures; show me variants,” he said.

This may be more difficult as data from consumer-grade products like wearable devices and Apple’s HealthKit gets filtered into databases. However, Dr Halamka believes this information can be empowering, and the way to handle it will be with care teams.

“I think in the future, medicine is dependent on teams of people,” he said. “Imagine a care traffic controller, which is a nonphysician extender and is the person who is looking at things like your body parameters, the appointments you made, the medications you take, looking with big data tools for variants…”

While some people may find the amounts of data coming in from patients overwhelming, Dr Halamka does not view the 3 petabytes of data he has as a large amount. (For reference, 1 petabyte is a quadrillion bytes, and, according to Scientific American, the human brain’s ability to store memories is equivalent to 2.5 petabytes of binary data.)

However, this data needs to be protected. He pointed to the recent stories of data breaches at JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, and Target. These were sophisticated attacks by cyber terrorists, not a college student testing his or her skills.

“As we talk about all this novel data and unstructured data and new techniques, millions and millions [of dollars] must be spent by institutions to keep that data secure,” Dr Halamka concluded. “It’s a lot of infrastructure to build and not just ‘cool tools.’”