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The goal of big data is to understand the complete patient, not the condition

February 03, 2017
Natasha Gulati
From the January 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Natasha Gulati

Voltaire once said, “Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.” Unfortunately, over 300 years of science, technology and discovery have done little to disprove this statement, especially the last part. Delivering high-quality, educated care entails a granular understanding of the problem, all people affected, possible solutions and related expected outcomes. The health care industry rightfully boasts of countless milestones from the discovery of cells, development of breakthrough drugs and vaccines, advances in genomics and the politicization of health care in the interest of populations. Throughout this evolution, our knowledge of health and disease has been the most important factor, and this knowledge has shown clear stages of development. is recognized as a key organizational asset and data is increasingly being seen as a resource, almost as a currency. Data is being used by industry participants to innovate new products, discover nontraditional revenue streams and transform their organizations.

From a knowledge evolution perspective, the health care industry is at a juncture where it shifts focus from understanding diseases and finding cures to understanding the consumer. Big data is the single most important enabler of this paradigm shift. Big data refers to electronic datasets so large and complex that they are difficult (or even impossible) to manage using traditional software and hardware. Big data can be physical, virtual or a combination of both.

To help fathom the size of big data, typical discussions on the subject generally revolve around the yottabyte, which is equal to a quadrillion gigabytes. The scan of a single organ in one second captures about 10 gigabytes of raw data. The health care industry is creating and accumulating data at an explosive rate. With all the digital information created, plus the advances in Internet penetration, decreasing cost of computing and increasing ubiquity of data-capturing sensors, it is estimated that the world generated over 100 zettabytes of relevant health data by the end of 2014.

Frost & Sullivan estimates that health care big data and analytics generated revenue of $4.44 billion in 2015, and this number will increase to $7.5 billion in 2020. The opportunity is huge, but the market is confused. Burning questions that clients ask revolve around identification of the most profitable, socially impactful and sustainable big data initiatives in health care. To identify the most relevant big data opportunities in health care, Frost & Sullivan developed a framework based on case studies of over 50 big data initiatives globally, conducted by governments, payers, providers, suppliers (pharmaceuticals and medical technology companies) and consumers (open-source projects or funded programs). The framework analyzed the frequency, goals, outcomes, participating organizations and long-term potential of the initiatives, and was validated by industry opinion leaders. In this framework, various big data applications were assessed on two major criteria:

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