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