Big Data is making the world a better place, here’s why
Analysing Big Data to improve patient clinical outcomes
We’re part of a world that is practically built on generating and collecting big data, as a result of technology advances that allow us to pick it all apart. This has enabled businesses and entire industries to ultimately become more effective when it comes to their customers. With all this in mind, you can imagine how the healthcare industry has evolved in order to use this data to improve their patients’ quality of life, find cures for illnesses and even uncover the next epidemic.
Data is the driving force behind the decisions made about the population’s healthcare because there is a need to understand patients fully. People are living longer, various methods of treatment are now available and, as a whole, the world is now bigger, so we need to be collecting data on individuals as soon in their life as possible. This is particularly true for patients with a life-threatening illness, because the sooner they are treated, the simpler and more cost-effective their treatment.
Using data to prevent not cure
We have a wealth of health apps available at our fingertips, from pedometers to calorie counters to heart monitors. This is the first step for many who are seeking to lead better lifestyles, and the data that is collected in these apps could be invaluable to doctors when it comes to understanding the patient as an individual. These apps aren’t just useful for doctors, but also allow people to monitor their own health so that they are more engaged with their wellbeing. Many of these health apps allow users to upload their data so that they can compare themselves to others; this acts as a preventative for illness because they will be able to detect much sooner whether they are considered healthy, compared to waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Following on from this notion, people could choose to share this data with their doctor so that when they do go for an appointment, their doctor is already aware of their problems and symptoms, and can use the data as part of their diagnostic toolbox. This is a huge time-saving and cost-effective way to utilise data, because remedies can be prepared in advance, there’s less time spent within the surgery as information has already been sent, and in terms of serious health outbreaks, problems can be spotted in general public data before they occur.
What is also important is that data can be analysed on an individual basis, but in order to spot patterns and predict threats to the population it is also analysed as a whole. When it comes to deciding what treatment to deliver, soon doctors will be able to compare the data of patients in order to predict the outcome of the treatment. This is because they can see how certain treatments affected others, how the patient’s genetic makeup will respond to the treatment, and whether their lifestyle had an effect on their illness. This process of building a complete, individual patient profile is something that Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance seek to create, so that treatments can be tailored to patients specifically.
One of the more prominent partnerships in healthcare that has just been announced is between Apple and IBM. They are seeking to give control to iPhone and Apple Watch users to share their health data with IBM, who will then use this data in order to obtain a greater understanding of medical health.
In the not too distant future, Telemedicine could be the next big thing in the healthcare industry. People need only have an internet connection and a computer before they will be able to communicate with a qualified healthcare professional to diagnose their symptoms. The early stages of this includes websites such as ‘webmd.com’, which allow users to search their symptoms and find suitable treatments. Healthtap is already offering this kind of service in the form of a Q&A website, but if more companies were to jump on board, the amount of data that would be generated would be invaluable to health companies and the general public and would change the way we engage with our health completely.
Medicine has also been researched through Big Data
Researchers are able to better choose the kinds of clinical trials that need to be run with the help of Big Data because they will be able to see from large volumes of data just what needs to be researched. One example of a medical breakthrough through the combining of Big Data from big pharmaceutical companies is the discovery that certain types of lung cancer could be treated using the antidepressant, desipramine.
Big Data can also be used to come up with personalised medicine, by combining a person’s external factors with their genetic blueprint, and then analysing this data in comparison to thousands of others. As well as finding specific medicines, Big Data is also useful when it comes to dealing with epidemics. The Ebola virus was able to be better predicted by using mobile phone location data to follow the movements of the population. This then allowed for treatment centres to be placed in suitable areas and for restrictions to be placed on movements to stop the virus spreading. But the potential for Big Data lies in finding the cure of cancer. There is a statistic out there that 96% of cancer patient data has yet to be analysed, and Flatiron Health is hoping to make this data available to clinicians, using a service called the Oncology Cloud, which will allow for studies into cancer treatments to be furthered.
But how secure is Big Data?
Data is confidential and sensitive, whether it be personal or medical data, so secure safeguards are necessary to ensuring the security and privacy of medical information. There have been several incidents already concerning stolen health data, for example through using credit card details and in February this year, US health insurer Anthem lost 80 million patient records to hackers. Lucky for Anthem no damaging data was acquired, only names and addresses, however this is merely the planting of a seed of doubt when it comes to the security of healthcare data. There needs to be regulations put in place to monitor patient privacy, as called for by Dr Leslie Saxon of the University of Southern Carolina Center for Body Computing.
Nevertheless, Big Data’s positive effect on the world’s population is still great because of its potential to play a massive part in allowing us to better understand our health and wellbeing. The assurance needs to be there that our health data is safe and it is debatable as to whether the data should all come under one roof, however the future of new treatments and the prevention of major illnesses is a positive one.
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