Big Data helps health care tackle new challenges

By Melanie Platten


WHAT IS BIG DATA? What experts have to say…

Being a data scientist will be the sexiest job of the 21st century according to Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian. Experts have a hard time agreeing upon a precise definition of Big Data, but agree that Big Data continues to have a huge impact on health care policy, clinical research, and every other aspect of the health care industry.

Big Data is the ability to organize extremely large data sets and analyze them in ways that weren’t previously possible in the past said Justin Borgman, CEO and founder of Hadapt, an analytic software company in Cambridge.  Borgman, a young entrepreneur, who co-founded Hadapt during a brief stint at the prestigious Yale School of Management, is just one of the many young technology enthusiasts trying to take advantage of what Borgman calls, “an enormous amount of breakthrough technology” in the market.

Another young entrepreneur taking advantage of the uncharted territory in the health care and information technology space is the CEO and Founder of ZappRX, Zoe Barry, an online pharmaceutical startup located in Boston.

“Big Data in health care is the process of taking what would otherwise be static information points, and being able to digitize them.”  Barry added that the use of Big Data in health care is the ability to connect the dots between what would otherwise be useless pieces of information.  “For example, we now not only have clinical trial information about people with asthma, but we also have emerging information via mobile apps about how those people respond to certain changes in climate etc.,” said Barry.

But besides just the technological capabilities, Big Data in health care has started somewhat of a movement; a way of moving the business of health care into the 21st century, said Aman Bhandari, director of health information and data partnerships at Merck, a global pharmaceutical company which is currently working on bringing various sectors of the health IT space together for collaboration.

“The heath care industry has always relied very heavily on clinical trials and molecular research.  Billings data is another area where we can extrapolate valuable data,”  but now, said Bhandari, data from mobile apps and the internet is a third area where health information is being collected.  Big Data allows for all three of those data sources to be looked at and analyzed collectively.

Chief Operating Officer of athenahealth, Ed Park, agreed that new sources of data are becoming increasingly more available,. The health care industry has become a learning organism and Big Data will allow experts to look at many sources of information and derive insight that will “lower cost and improve the quality of care.”

It’s no surprise that the industry is in search of advancements. According to a 2011 report from The Commonwealth Fund, the US spends close to twice as much on health care than any other industrialized nation. Yet the United States ranks only 51st in life expectancy in the CIA’s World Fact Book.

“Considering how much Americans pay for health care, our ranking for life expectancy is pretty low,” said CEO of Merck Pharmaceuticals, Thomas Tsang, at a recent Big Data workshop in Boston sponsored by health care startup accelerator RockHealth. “Big Data in health care offers a way to change all that,” said Tsang.

So why is Big Data so important to health care? For Dick Johannes, vice president of clinical research at CareFusion,  it all comes down to a more efficient health care policy and guiding better decision-making. He thinks the US can do better. “The idea of health care being important to a population, whether you see it as a right or not, is important,” said Johannes. “We have a challenge ahead of us, to do better [in health care], and Big Data can help us get there.”

Experts discuss impact of Big Data on health care

About Melanie Platten 4 Articles
Melanie Platten started her career as a financial analyst at an investment management firm, State Street Global Advisors (SSGA). After two years, she left the bank to work in the television-packaging department at talent agency, CAA in Los Angeles.
She soon landed a position as a story producer for styleboston, a lifestyle television program originally airing on NECN. Melanie was soon promoted to senior producer and co-host of the show and helped transition the program to Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB.. During her time at styleboston, the show was nominated for three regional Emmy awards for outstanding content in magazine show programming.
Melanie is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Journalism from Emerson College. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.