Big data's biggest healthcare challenge: Making sense of it all

Collecting healthcare data on patients and populations will soon be easier than ever for the industry, it's making sense of all the information that will be the biggest challenge, Drew Harris, M.D., director of health policy at Thomas Jefferson University's School of Population Health in Philadelphia, writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The most significant change will come when data systems are merged; when electronic health records can link people who live, work and commute together, according to Harris.

"This information can be used to inform your care from knowing which bacterial strains are circulating in your network to what ideas about health and health behavior are influencing you," he writes.

For population health management to be successful, there needs to be a blend of predictive analytics, chronic care management, a timely feedback mechanism and measurable outcomes, according to Kori Krueger, M.D., medical director for the Institute for Quality, Innovation and Patient Safety at the Marshfield Clinic.

In addition, as data grows on the health of individuals and communities, physicians' roles will move from just diagnosing an illness to being the manager and guide to a person's care, Harris adds.

However, there is a dark cloud hanging over all of this, he says: a loss of privacy. Already, healthcare entities struggle to keep patient information secure, as shown by recent phishing incidents at Texas-based Seton Healthcare Family and at Partners HealthCare in Boston. The more data out there, the more there is for someone to steal, Harris says.

That means better policies are needed, he adds. Public utility and individual liberty need to be balanced and punishments for violations must be "as severe as the potential damage," Harris says.

To learn more:
- here's the WSJ post