Big data mashups hold research potential, practical challenges for healthcare industry

Other industries have been far more successful than healthcare in mashing together big datasets to learn more about their customers. The prospect raises myriad possibilities, according to a Viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association

What could be learned by combining patients' shopping patterns, credit-card data, distance from healthcare facilities, healthcare use patterns and other information?

Medical researchers, the authors say, first must identify the sources of information that could provide value to their work and determine how it could provide insight, write the authors, affiliated with Boston's Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Children's Hospital. 

Technical, social, privacy and consent challenges must be addressed before big biomedical data "can have their full influence on health care," the authors write.

"However, given that data linkage is already happening in other industries and is increasingly being thought of as an informational asset for healthcare delivery, monitoring and marketing, it would behoove the medical establishment to guide societal and legislative standards in this regard," they say.

An Ohio State University study found that including neighborhood data in the EHR, such as information about access to grocery stores, could help in the fight against obesity.

And the Institute of Medicine recently advocated including social and behavioral health information in electronic health records to give healthcare providers a  more complete picture of the patient. That recommendation is expected to be part of Meaningful Use Stage 3.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA article