Big Data is a flashy buzzword tossed around in most industries today, but what does it mean for medicine? Top healthcare practitioners and executives tackled that question Tuesday at U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural Hospitals of Tomorrow conference. At the most basic level, it’s about distilling meaning from an unprecedented volume of information generated by the proliferation of connected devices and new technologies. Big Data has the potential to help hospitals and the entire healthcare system run better as well as solve medical problems, professionals at the cutting edge of this space say.
Featured speakers included Eric Schadt, Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Chris Belmont, Chief Information Officer of the Anderson Cancer Center; Jonathan Silverstein, vice president for Clinical Research Informatics at NorthShore, an academic health system affiliated with University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine and Brad Ryan, a general manager at IMS Health, an information and technology services company.
[More Hospital of Tomorrow Forum coverage: usnews.com/hospitaloftomorrow]
Key takeaways included:
- Effective interpretation of Big Data can help identify which new technologies are working and which aren’t, Ryan said. It’s about using “the wealth of data at our fingertips to understand which mobile health apps work and which don’t.”
- Being a master of really Big Data is now a critical part of biomedical research, Schadt said. The hope is to integrate many different dimensions of data to create predictive models. A personalized cancer therapy program is a practical application of big data that is happening now, Schadt said.
- In order to improve medicine’s ability to use Big Data, institutions need to overhaul hiring practices to bring in talent that may not have been recognized in the traditional hierarchy, Silverstein argued.
- Tapping into the power of Big Data means running businesses better by “pulling all of this information together versus having it in siloes” Belmont said. The future is connected data, Ryan said, echoing that point.
- Doctors, scientists and healthcare executives have been working with large quantities of data for years, the challenge has been and remains interpreting it and using it effectively, the panelists agreed.
- The hold up on putting Big Data to good use is a “paternalistic” view of the way medicine should operate, Schadt said. “Many doctors believe a patient shouldn’t be allowed to have their data.”
- The technology is not the limiting factor, Ryan said, it’s the incentive structure on the business side.
- Even when hiring practices permit recruitment of the best people, it’s hard to attract those people to medicine, Silverstein said. They have offers from many industries.
The term Big Data may have become popular as of late, but working with lots of information is not new to those in the healthcare industry. As technology enables the production of even more information, the trick is to find a way to sift and winnow through it in a way that solves problems. Unleashing the power of Big Data in health will require moving past antiquated notions of the healthcare industry model and convincing talented people that it’s a worthy place to have a career.