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Readers Write: The Chasm Between the Vision and Reality of Big Data

March 20, 2013 Readers Write 2 Comments

The Chasm Between the Vision and Reality of Big Data
By Ed Park

3-20-2013 4-35-43 PM

I attended the Bloomberg “Big Data” Conference in DC on Thursday, March 14. It was awesome. Folks from big business, big government, and beyond attended. Everyone was talking about the perils and opportunities of data – big data. As one executive creatively stated, “Data is the new oil, and what we want is the gold.”

I was lucky enough to take part in the healthcare panel. In short, my point of view is that healthcare desperately needs to attack and improve its many inefficiencies — much like how Walmart and FedEx have done — before it can successfully leverage big data to drive clinical enhancements. If we can’t get the simple stuff right— ensuring we follow up on lab orders, getting through Meaningful Use, etc. – we have no hope of getting to all of the great things we know are possible.

Athenahealth has brought insight and analysis to the way insurance claims are processed to ensure that the creation of claims and billing in general is streamlined. While this concept might seem simple, it has a powerful trickle effect. If physician practices can get claims and billing in order, they gain valuable time and resources to focus on care.

I tried to talk about the power of data in a tangible way by approaching the conversation from a “first things first” perspective. I tried my best to detail how data can be used to support primary care physicians’ workflow by selectively involving mid-level practitioners and administrators to take on tasks that doctors shouldn’t be doing. This in turn allows doctors to be fully present with patients.

To the dream-filled audience who perhaps thought the time for robot-driven care delivery was near, my goal was to keep it real by saying there is “no greater distance than the chasm between the promise of big data and where we are today.” The applications that healthcare needs to focus on first when it comes to big data are practical things: being more efficient, making administrative process fail-proof, identifying patient populations that are the most sick and most expensive, understanding what’s working and what’s not in the provider workflow, understanding the way patients act (or don’t act) based on a doctor’s order.

With this focus (to be more efficient), in time we’ll be better able to open the doors for healthcare to tackle data-driven clinical intelligence and improvement.

The future of big data in healthcare is bright. There are grand opportunities for patients and the industry at large as vendors, government, and health systems begin to embrace the idea of and build an infrastructure to support broad-based data liquidity. It is from this data openness that patients and providers will be empowered to take control of information to direct the health-related decisions they make.

It was mentioned at the conference that big data is not new, but what is new is “big, fat, messy, distributed data.” The challenge and opportunity is to bring together data to drive change based on evidence, with confidence.

Ed Park is chief operating officer of athenahealth of Watertown, MA.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. I’d just like to highlight the data reality by providing an insight on providing lab results to patients. I was recently notified that my lab results were electronically available via my password-protected preventative care website. I needed a provider assigned ID in order to gain initial access to the website to set up my username and password. This site was separate from the practice’s patient portal site which needed a separate username and password. The preventative care website was not accessible via the Patient Portal (provided by Intuit Health). I was pleased to read ‘For your convenience we are working with Intuit and My Preventive Care to create a single log on to both features.’ When I accessed my lab results for the 1st time I found out that I had lab results on this site (that I had previously never seen) going back to 2003. It was fascinating to see the lab results for every visit in which labs were ordered. And, values that were out of range were clearly identifiable.

    But, and here is the rub from a data perspective. The data was static reports for each result. Looking at the data I could see right away how valuable it would be to be able to view the data in a time series. So, I would be able to see inflections and be able to correlate it with behaviors or lifestyle impacts. I think it goes back to the issue that we’re collecting more and more information, but we’re doing a poor job of figuring out what’s of value and what is the best way to present it to providers, patients, and broadly to change behaviors, adjust treatment regimens, and make clinical recommendations to improve patient health, wellness, and care.

  2. What a powerful example of how the industry should be thinking about data. I totally agree that beyond openness, we need to serve up data in ways that will inform and influence behavior, as well as tell a story of what we’re looking at and why. Hopefully the chasm will slowly close.

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