big data in healthcare

May 30, 2017

How Big Data is Saving Lives

Adam Cegielski

If you want to learn how investments in big data are changing the world for the better, there’s no better place to start than in healthcare. Massive amounts of medical data are generated each day, from patient records to academic research. A single patient generates 400 gigabytes worth of digital health records in their lifetime. Simply add their genetic information to the file and that data count increases to 6 terabytes.1 With the growing adoption of sensor-based devices like FitBit and Apple Watch, the amount of available data has increased exponentially.

All of this data creates a fundamental issue: humans are simply not capable of processing that much information. According to Flatiron Health, there is such an abundance of cancer patient data in the world that 96% of it has yet to be analyzed!2 Big data computing is the solution to this problem of exponentially growing data and its impact on the healthcare industry is already being felt. Rock Health estimated that $7-8 billion has been invested in healthtech in the last two years alone. As billions of investor dollars pour into these technologies, the future of big data healthcare is full of uncharted potential.

Big Data and IBM Watson

The collaborative care market is the next disruption in healthcare and it will be worth billions. Perhaps its most groundbreaking output is ibm’s Watson Health system – an application of machine learning healthcare that is flipping the medical world on its head. This api software gathers, processes, and sorts data from patients and experts, providing doctors with the tools to make more informed treatment decisions – in much less time – offering exceedingly effective healthcare.

ibm recognizes they can’t revolutionize the market alone. They are searching for partners to expand the system’s range of data, making it more relevant at ground level and motivating doctors to apply Watson to their practice. ibm recently partnered with Apple to incorporate its Watch data into the Watson network.2 New firms are using big data to connect patients with personalized cognitive care from expert practitioners on their mobile devices. These types of specialized data processors and collectors are going to be increasingly valuable for ibm in its pursuit to provide the medical field and its consumers with more information than ever before, and investors are taking notice.

Vida Health, a digital app that pairs health coaches with chronic disease patients, recently raised $18 million. In only two years, the app has connected over 30,000 patients with expert coaches for conditions ranging from diabetes to depression. ceo Stephanie Tilenius says patient-practitioner connective platforms like Vida Health have the ability to “reduce our nation’s healthcare burden”.3 At Eyecarrot we have developed a similar collaborative care platform called Binovi that trains and rehabilitates visual performance , helping the millions of patients affected by visual disorders worldwide. Its focus on preventative health echoes the next frontier in health tech, as governments look for large scale technology solutions.

Microsoft Also Tapping Big Data

Even Microsoft is returning to healthcare technology after a brief hiatus. The firm is launching several research projects to contribute to big data healthcare, from patient record platforms to medical chatbots (hopefully we won’t see a return of Clippy!).4 As this market evolves, giants like Microsoft are going to partner with or acquire start-ups to expand their database of expert knowledge and provide better healthcare on a global scale.

Big data healthcare could provide patients with specialized care from anywhere in the world. With ibm Watson’s information sharing capabilities, more generalized practitioners can retrieve data directly from specialists and apply it to diagnoses. For those in remote locations, developing countries, or without access to transportation, the implications of big data healthcare are enormously inclusive. Not to mention the fact that 50% of consumer mobile healthcare apps can be downloaded free of charge.5 This new technology paints a world where everybody can receive adequate care.

In a recent tele-ophthalmology trial, nurses in remote areas of Australia used a machine learning healthcare system to transfer patient retinal images to doctors in major health centres. David Hansen, ceo of the Australian eHealth Research Centre, was shocked by the results produced without any physical travel between the two parties. “We were able to diagnose people with diabetes who didn’t even realize they had it,” he said.6

By investing in big data healthcare technology, you are quite literally investing in lives. Big data provides specialized care to more patients in more places than ever before. Medical professionals are starting to see the shattering implications of technology that can share healthcare analytics faster and more effectively than they can.

The opportunities are vast. For example, researchers will be able to find new uses for pharmaceuticals, as in the case of Desipramine, a drug historically used to treat depression, which now has potential applications in curing lung cancer.7 Doctors will be able to tap into predictive systems to assess the potential outcomes of a prescribed treatment for an individual based on mining data from millions of other outcomes. Patients in some of the world’s poorest countries will have access to care, knowledge and insights from the world’s leading specialists.

With its ability to connect all facets of healthcare – patients to specialists and specialists to practitioners – there is no denying the impact that big data is having on long term patient health.

Big data is saving lives. Now it’s only a matter of how many.