Healthcare Is the Big Data Growth Engine

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 10, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In July this year, I ran 153km. My doctor would probably be pleased to see this, as it’s quite a good average of about one marathon every week. I was hoping to do even better in August, but I’ve not been very well so my figures are lower.

I know the distance covered because my iPhone has the Nike+ app. Not only is it recording the distance each time I run, but I can see where I went, the hills covered, the split times, average pace, the weather, and the type of terrain covered. Add an extra accessory, like the Apple Watch, and I could be tracking and recording my heart rate too.

Tools like this are the reality of concepts that we all see in technology journals – Big Data and the Internet of Things are two concepts that we read about all the time and yet they are often undefined or unclear.

Take another example related to health. The games company Nintendo is in the process of launching an entire suite of products related to “Quality of Life”. The first one is a box you can place by your bed as you sleep. It does not need to touch you, it just needs to be close, maybe by your bedside light and book.

The device monitors you as you sleep. It gathers data over time and compares it to other people and can recommend how you can improve your health. The device can give concrete advice (usually related to exercise or food) based on knowledge of the way people sleep and it does not even need to be worn.

All these devices are capturing enormous amounts of data that we never used to capture. In theory, open sharing of health-related data with health professionals should make their life easier and improve diagnosis for patients.

But it’s not always as easy as the technology suggests. A new paper in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics explores Big Data use in healthcare and why it is taking longer than expected to achieve the promised benefits.

The real challenges are:

1. There is just so much data that is being stored. Most individual healthcare providers don’t know what to do with all the data they have – at that is just at individual company levels.
2. Finding a way to use the data is difficult. Most healthcare managers are not experts in the concepts of IoT being used to create data and Big Data expertise allowing the study of enormous databases.

The “Holy Grail” for healthcare providers is to be able to create an “Electronic Health Record”… a single key that then allows every possible piece of information on a single patient to be indexed. This would include traditional patient notes, but also any X-rays, MRI scans, performed over a lifetime. It would also include extra information, such as sleep patterns from a Nintendo device, exercise records from a Nike device, and a record of your pulse from the moment you are born to when you die.

Technologically we are there already. Mainstream equipment such as smart phones and smart watches are already making the data collection possible, but can the healthcare companies actually make sense of all the information they can access?

At present no, but it goes to show that healthcare is about to be one of the growth industries of the century. Populations are getting older and information technology is blending with normal life in a way that nobody could have imagined a decade ago.

Big Data and the IoT have a real and definable purpose in healthcare. Where do you think the next big healthcare innovation will take place?

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