Rising to the Challenge of Big Data

Healthcare enterprises are inundated with data. From continuous pulse readings to 200-slice CT scan studies, healthcare is witnessing a data explosion, and it’s not restricted to just hospitals. Data surrounding medical claims, transactions, electronic medical records (EMRs), clinical trials, imaging, genomics data and 24/7 streamed sensor data continue to accumulate every second of every day, creating an enormous responsibility — and challenge — for healthcare organizations across the board.

The expansion of big data is forcing healthcare players to migrate from older, conventional data management systems to those designed specifically for new types of data. Pioneered in other industries, modern big data platforms can manage immense scales and varieties of data. While the quantity of data has exploded, healthcare enterprises’ ability to manage and leverage the platforms certainly hasn’t.Big Data

A recent survey revealed 65% of providers do not have the ability to view and utilize all relevant patient data needed during an encounter, and only 36% of providers are satisfied with their abilities to integrate big data from external sources into their daily routines1. Even after investing in “shiny, new” IT products, hospitals and most players are yet to see concrete benefits that justify their investment. Meanwhile, expectations to continue improving quality of care across the continuum, at even lower costs, continue to rise.

SEE ALSO: Managing IT in a New Era of Healthcare

To get faster patient care insights and materially improve care, healthcare players now need new kinds of muscle and must set a bold goal: to not just cope with the challenge of big data, but to gain mastery over it. To achieve this, organizations should consider undertaking the following four steps to start their journey:

1. Embrace Big Data and Ask Questions That Matter.
Many healthcare leaders have grown in an environment where retrieving patient data has notoriously been laborious and delay prone. For example, a single sugar reading required a visit to the laboratory, but today patients can perform the test at home using a blood glucose meter, a test strip and a lancing device. Though times have changed, mindsets have not — at least not at the same pace. Healthcare leaders today need to embrace a data-rich world and understand the potential of data to dramatically improve care across all types of conditions. It is only when business leaders understand big data that they can ask key questions to unlock insights, thereby building a data-oriented culture in the organization.

2. Learn Fast from the Best.
UPS attributes its success to operations research and big data, and regards both strategies as the force behind their improved performance and customer satisfaction2. Entire industries such as civil aviation, retail and logistics have used big data to upend and continually refine their business models. Healthcare organizations need to learn from these players and rapidly master big data. Bringing executives from these industries into healthcare — including at a leadership level — could be a radical but a noteworthy option.

3. Bring in Data Scientists to Translate These Visions into Reality.
Healthcare companies will also need to invest in building skills in data science that can harness the flood of data into manageable streams. Healthcare organizations should actively recruit data scientists who can translate requirements into methods, approaches and processes for conducting analytics to answer business questions. These professionals, usually with a strong mathematics or quantitative background, should be introduced into the organization with active support of the front-line staff and operations leaders to ensure their analyses are meaningful and applicable.

4. Adopt a Start-up Approach to Building Capabilities.
Healthcare organizations should adopt an entrepreneurial, start-up mindset to build familiarity and ultimately expertise in managing big data. Helmed by senior leaders comfortable with this new space, players need to act as an enterprise first and invest in building critical mass in data science. They should then assign these professionals, along with front-line managers, into areas where analytics is most required and likely to succeed (in the immediate term). These SWAT teams should rapidly iterate through business problems and focus on identifying meaningful insights. In our experience, organizations’ willingness to utilize big data is directly proportional to their ability to quickly generate valuable improvement insights. Focusing on insight first allows organizations to create a virtuous cycle of adopting big data analyses, slowly bringing them into the mainstream of their business operations.

The potential of big data in healthcare is compelling. It is an idea whose time has come and healthcare players need to step up to the challenge. Nothing less than the health and safety of our communities depends on it.

Adheet Gogate is vice president of consulting at CitiusTech.


1. Bresnick, J. Quality Metrics, Big Data Woes Make Value-Based Care Difficult. Health IT Analytics.

2. Stashick, R. Big Data Delivers Big Results at UPS. UPS Pressroom.

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