Big data efforts in healthcare will require patience

The terms "Meaningful Use" and "ICD-10" got plenty of play this year, but another phrase tossed around quite a bit in health IT this year was "big data." On the FierceHealthIT website alone, 26 posts in 2013 (not counting this one) contained the term "big data" in the headline.

One of those headlines from earlier this year touted an analysis predicting that such tools could save the healthcare industry nearly half-a-trillion dollars over the next decade. That's a hefty sum, but one that could be realized, given the recent successes touted by various organizations.

For exapmle, Kaiser Permanente Chief Medical Information Officer John Mattison recently revealed that, through the use of data analytics, the health system's Southern California hospitals achieved mortality rates 26 percent lower than at other Kaiser hospitals.

Speaking earlier this month at the VentureBeat Data Science Summit in Silicon Valley, Calif., Mattison talked about how Kaiser uses data analyzed from anonymized patient outcomes data to develop treatment recommendations, delivered to providers in the form of information alerts.

He projected that 10 times more medical research will be conducted by analyzing data than by more conventional clinical research models.

Meanwhile, at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Fall Forum in October, Edward Marx, CIO at Texas Health Resources, outlined how his organization's IT department has taken advantage of data analytics to solidify its budgeting processes. In a recent conversation with Marx, I asked him to elaborate on what he referred to as "evidence-based budgeting."

"We came up with this concept of evidence-based budgeting so that when we come in and we defend our budget or we try to get additional dollars added to our budget while everyone else might have to be reducing, we try to take the emotion out of it by adding hard facts and data," Marx said.

One source for those hard facts is the hospital's time accounting system, he said, which provides specific accounts of where employees are spending their time.

"Now we're completely transparent," Marx added. "When you show people the numbers, and you show them how you got the numbers, it's all transparent. We took away the mystery."

The University of North Carolina Health Care in Chapel Hil is also taking advantage of data analytics. According to Carlton Moore, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the system, UNCHC, like Kaiser, is improving patient care--specifically for cancer sufferers--by sifting through screening data for abnormal test results.

Survey results published by CHIME in August found that while hospital executives realized the importance of big data adoption, they remained skeptical about how that adoption will occur, particularly for those CIOs with fewer resources at their disposal.

Efforts like these are helping drive quality and revenue--and can serve as models for future deployment. I expect we'll see a lot more about big data in 2014. - Dan @FierceHealthIT

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