Big data use could save $450 billion in healthcare costs

Big data could help U.S. citizens save as much as $450 billion in healthcare costs, but fundamental change is necessary to meeting such goals, according to a new analysis published this month by consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Among some of the changes needed, according to the analysis, is a continuation of the move away from fee-for-service care, as well as recognition on the part of both providers and patients that data can be an effective tool.

"[A]ll stakeholders must recognize the value of big data and be willing to act on its insights, a fundamental mind-set shift for many and one that may prove difficult to achieve," the analysis says. "Patients will not benefit from research on exercise, for example, if they persist in their sedentary lifestyles. And physicians may not improve patient outcomes if they refuse to follow treatment protocols based on big data, and instead rely solely on their own judgment."

The authors point out that seemingly simple interventions performed on a large scale could lead to huge savings. For example, they estimate that, when combined with big data, efforts to combat a chronic condition like coronary heart disease such as taking aspirin, undergoing early cholesterol screening and smoking cessation, could bring care costs down by $30 billion.

"Our estimate of $300 billion to $450 billion in reduced healthcare spending could be conservative, as many insights and innovations are still ahead," the authors say.

In a recent Hospital Impact blog post, Kent Bottles, M.D, a senior fellow at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health, says that leveraging big data represents a paradigm shift in healthcare.

"I am convinced big data and algorithms will disrupt healthcare in ways that are only now becoming appreciated," Bottles says. He adds, however, that there are "definite risks and unintended consequences" to using big data, particularly with regard to ensuring privacy, something the McKinsey analysis authors point out, as well.

"Privacy issues will continue to be a major concern," they say. "Although new computer programs can readily remove names and other personal information from records being transported into large databases, stakeholders across the industry must be vigilant and watch for potential problems as more information becomes public."

To learn more:
- read the McKinsey analysis