Data is dramatically improving patient outcomes in a manner that might not have been imaginable 20 years ago, with big data being a game-changer in healthcare. But how can hospital administrators use big data in a way that benefits staff members and patients alike?
Big Data 101
Healthcare facilities have access to vast amounts of data that comes from a number of sources. The majority originates from electronic health records and medical tests, but it can also come from wearable devices such as the Fitbit.
Healthcare data has paved the way to advancements in delivery of healthcare services — as well as a reduction in costs. It gives providers the information they need to improve efficiency and gain a better understanding of how best to attack medical problems such as illnesses and injuries.
Putting Big Data to Use
Harnessing data to help patients is a major challenge, to say the least. It shouldn't take the professionals who use databases and other software tools a computer science degree to navigate them. Good data is both verifiable and presentable.
Hospital administrators must balance the opportunities mined from data insights with adequate privacy and security measures. They are required to adhere to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations to the letter, or face the risk of severe penalties.
They must also determine the best way to store information so it cannot fall into the wrong hands. Finding trustworthy storage providers will be only half the battle; those providers will also have to comply with HIPAA guidelines.
Companies need qualified professionals on hand to manage the data, which could involve bringing information technology (IT) experts, and possibly even data scientists, on board. Administrators may have to completely revamp existing IT departments to be able to accommodate the demands of big data.
Additionally, care provision itself will call for adjustments as well. Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel will need to see the value of data in enhancing care delivery. They will then need training in how to access data in the most efficient way possible.
Technology companies are partnering with researchers and healthcare organizations in innovative ways to provide the data they need to help improve patient care.
For example, several Apple and Android applications help millions of patients around the world manage illnesses. Another instance involves Apple working with Stanford researchers on using the Apple Watch heart sensor to help detect atrial fibrillation, a potentially fatal condition. If the collaboration is successful, the watch may be able to alert the wearer to seek medical help right away.
Other wearable devices could alert medical staff to real-time health information, enabling them to contact the wearers of those devices regarding possible health issues.
The National Institutes of Health (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) is embarking on an ambitious project to gather data. The NIH is looking for 1 million people to provide health information to a massive research project in hopes that this data will help researchers get a better idea of how to treat — or better yet, prevent — disease.
A Bright Future
People who have a deep understanding of how data applies to the healthcare industry will be well-positioned to assume executive roles. Those who stay aware and ahead of big data trends in healthcare will play a major role in improving patient outcomes. Executives with a grasp of the potential of big data and an understanding of the patient experience will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
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