Big Data and the Big Question: What Will the Impact Be on Healthcare?

by | May 6, 2019 | Healthcare

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Big data has already become a focal point for professionals in a wide variety of industries. One place where it promises to make a big impact is in healthcare.

Big data and analytics are becoming critical factors in everything from clinical trials to everyday tasks for professionals in the healthcare industry. Let’s examine.

The benefits of big data in clinical trials

Data, in general, has not always been easy to come by in the healthcare industry. Specifically, clinical trial data is known for being difficult to harness, and oftentimes, it can be expensive. With the arrival of big data and analytics, healthcare professionals have gained access to information that can potentially help them move forward with tasks such as clinical trials, without a long wait period.

In the past, clinical trials have relied on structured, clinically sourced data. With big data and analytics at the fingertips of healthcare professionals, the potential for more research and discoveries has greatly expanded. Think mHealth devices for the remote monitoring of trial patient participants, and advanced technologies that can analyze large amounts of data in a short period of time.

“Unfortunately, medical history is full of examples where patients were harmed by basing decisions on observational research. So, when it comes to testing treatments and assessing if patients fare better when receiving such treatment and not the other, we need a randomized experiment. That’s not new,” write Lars G. Hemkens and Kimberly Alba Mc Cord for BioMedCentral. “But there is hope. We can perfectly rely on the tools we have right now: randomized trials. They don’t require complex modelling, knowing anything about treatment mechanisms or understanding the risk profile of patients. And who says we can’t use routinely collected data to find participants or assess their outcomes through randomized interventions and find out what works best?”

Big data and epidemics

In addition to benefiting clinical trials, big data is also playing a large role in the transformation of epidemics. When it comes to epidemics, society often suffers from a lack of timely data and professionals with the background necessary to analyze this information. With the introduction of big data, epidemics are becoming easier to monitor and model over time.

Faster and more affordable genome sequencing is now helping healthcare professionals create large quantities of big data. With this information, experts are gaining the ability to monitor how microbes mutate as epidemics unfold.

Big data is also now coming from some unlikely sources, such as social media. The abundance of information streaming in from websites such as Facebook and Twitter is giving healthcare experts insight into epidemics, and it is also helping with predictions. For instance, researchers have been able to use Twitter in the past to predict when flu season will peak.

Finally, big data is helping healthcare experts gain insight into where epidemics might strike based on where they have shown up before around the globe. For example, the use of analytics helped map likely locations for the Zika virus to spread and thrive.

Final thoughts

Big data continues to penetrate the healthcare industry in multiple ways, and although experts have not always been receptive to it, analytics are becoming more critical to the prevention and treatment of illnesses. As healthcare professionals find new ways to integrate big data into their overall strategies, it will likely become more mainstream within the industry itself. There is no telling what the future holds for big data, but the sky is seemingly the limit when it comes to harnessing this information and finding new ways to put it to use.

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