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How big data could transform the health sector

John MacMillan, Head of Daisy Health, explains why all health organisations should be using big data.

Technology and health intrinsically go hand in hand. For years tech innovations have been used in clinical delivery terms to monitor health, administer treatment and aid research into some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

Although the data has always been there, most organisations are only now beginning to take advantage of it.  As usual, America seems to be ahead of the game and Google founder Larry Page has even gone as far as saying that the implementation of big data in health could save 100,000 lives in the space of just one year.

This may seem like a brave statement to make, but there is no doubt that when controlled and stored effectively, data could play a major role in saving lives; whether that be through monitoring patients’ health, identifying when medication needs issuing or predicting accurately when patients are likely to be readmitted.

Saving time, money and lives

Most critical from the NHS’ point of view is the ability to save money for the health service, which is currently faced with cuts of £20 billion. This will undoubtedly impact the patient experience for the worse – something which understanding big data could alleviate substantially.

Given the NHS’ £70m technology budget, the cost of implementing a big data strategy is on the whole irrelevant. The key to success, however, lies in data analytics- the science behind data. The process of data analytics requires software development skills combined with commercial creativity, statistical know-how and being able to identify patterns. However, this needs to be made easy to understand by everyone involved in the health service process, ranging from receptionists to GPs, heart surgeons – and of course, the patient.

This personalisation of healthcare not only helps to save lives but also aids patient satisfaction and could even reduce congested A&E waiting rooms if illnesses are identified early on.

Social media could also be pivotal in implementing big data for healthcare purposes. A study published in Preventive Medicine indicates that in the future sexual risk and drug abuse behaviours could be predicted early by monitoring social media activity and linking this to unstructured geographical data.

Tech is the enabler

Cloud computing is just one way of taking advantage of big data for day to day health services. It can do so by improving customer engagement and easing the strain on resources through the instantaneous exchange of correctly managed data sets. Mobile devices, for example, can be used to access patients’ notes in real-time and feedback on anything in their medical history which may be relevant to their current condition.

The use of phone lines and connectivity solutions also enable virtual medical appointments and speedier diagnoses. The data exchanged over these communication channels, however, still needs to be stored and managed. There’s no good having the technology available unless it can be used to good effect to improve standards of care.

Watch this space

The challenge now lies with health organisations to shape their policies to fit the age of technology and allow for the effective use of resources and exploitation of structured and unstructured data.

So what is the future? I predict the introduction of wearable technology could be instrumental in the health field. In just a few years’ time, we could be monitoring our heart rate, conferencing with our GP and ordering prescriptions from our own wrist.

The days of crowded emergency rooms could be a thing of the past!