Big Data Ready to Transform Healthcare

The problems of present-day healthcare are well known—gross inefficiencies, poor outcomes, and inadequate personalized care. A vast amount of information is out there, known as Big Data, that can aid greatly in solving these problems, if only the data could be efficiently accessed, analyzed, summarized, and applied to the healthcare system.

These advances are indeed rapidly taking place. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health system is partnering with several information technology companies to create a database that integrates financial, administrative, clinical and genomic information. Although the process is complex, it can lead to simplified solutions.

Another example is the use of IBM’s supercomputer, Watson. The supercomputer was loaded with vast amounts of patient records from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, as well as from many medical journal publications. Platforms were developed that physicians can access to determine cancer treatment options.

Medicare is serving as an impetus to accelerate the process by requiring hospitals to improve care in three critical areas or to incur penalties: reduce readmission rate of patients, adopt electronic health record systems, and reduce hospital-acquired infections.

Analyses of Big Data promise applications that were not really available before, such as the prediction of disease onset so that interventions can be made before the disease manifests.

Not everyone in the healthcare field is happy about the application of big data analytics in an attempt to reduce costs. Some physicians fear that a change from the traditional fee-for-service system to performance metrics will limit their options in treating patients. The controversy relates to the types of tests or procedures that are ordered or performed and under what situations.

Big Data will be a great assist to advance “personalized medicine.” This will be a topic of another blog.


Bernard, Allen. Healthcare Industry Sees Big Data As More Than a Bandage. CIO, Aug. 5, 2013.

Cerrano, Paul. Why Physicians Don’t Like Big Data. Information Week, August 20, 2013.

Hagland, Mark. Thinking Really Big About Data. Healthcare Informatics