Is big data worth the investment when it comes to improving care?

Top executives at several health IT companies disagreed on how big data is impacting healthcare during a recent panel discussion at Partners HealthCare's Connected Health Symposium in Boston, Clinical Innovation + Technology reported.

Michael Weintraub, chairman and CEO of Boston-based Humedica Inc., talked about "seven-figure reductions in costs by keeping people out of the emergency department, pushing information to ensure follow up and compliance with medications." He also talked about hospitals reporting cutting readmissions of heart patients by 75 percent by using big data.

Chris Kryder, M.D., chairman of Chicago-based Valence Health said he wasn't so sure. "I don't think big data has generated a big return on investment for sick or health people," Kryder said during the panel discussion, according to the article. Hospitals are experiencing information overload, he added, making it "very hard to generate valuable nuggets" of information from data.

Stephen McHale, CEO of Cleveland-based Explorys, said team engagement improves the likelihood that medicine can be delivered differently, ultimately driving down the cost of care. But the "change management issues here are significant," he is quoted as saying. "We've changed the way we approach the effort and resources to apply into this environment."

Humedica's Weintraub added that because big data is so compartmentalized, it "means different things to different people." It also comes from different sources, he said. "Once information is pushed to those who consume the data, we'll start seeing the investment eclipsed by the savings," something he said will be a multi-year process that includes "a bunch of failures," according to the article.

The executives' comments indicate the country is far from achieving the $450 billion in healthcare cost reductions projected by an analysis published in the spring by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, providing key changes are made. "[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.

Health IT experts have yet to explain how big data will be integrated into providers' work practices and the "complex routines" of provider organizations, University of Washington in Seattle professor Gina Neff argued in a recent report.

"The ways in which health technology innovators have talked about the power of data neglects key aspects of the social interoperability or integration of data into health solutions," Neff's report says.

Right now providers are underutilizing big data and analytics tools when compared with payers, according to a report published by Framingham, Mass.-based research and consulting firm IDC Health Insights. Among its findings: 40 percent of providers in the survey said they had no plans to budget money for big data and analytics tools, compared with 14 percent of payers.

To learn more:
- read the Clinical Innovation + Technology article
- check out the McKinsey analysis
- here's Neff's report
- find the IDC Health Insights report



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