Smartwatch wearers: Have you checked your smartwatch lately? Did it tell you how many steps you have or how fast your heart is beating? How accurate is the information? What does that number mean for your overall health, and where do all of those numbers go after they are reported back to your computer?
The health care industry is under constant pressure to securely store patient information and still have it readily available to staff and consumers. However, only 20 percent of the data is used; what happens to the other 80 percent? How are we utilizing it effectively? We have collected data about almost every aspect of our lives, yet we face a situation where we are flooded with an unmanageable flow of data. Can we make a profit from the data to justify the storage of this data? If so, what are the ethical considerations to make?
“Big Data” is the term often used to describe the large volume of information that has been collected in our digitally connected lives. It includes things like our blood pressure and how often we are stopped at a red light. The data is quickly becoming unmanageable and possibly even useless considering our current technology and current uses. Big data has to prove itself economically worthwhile for the growing costs of storage.
Finding new ways to use data can justify the added expense of storage, improve medical outcomes, and discover previously unknown linkages between a variety of variables.
From an innovation standpoint, companies like IBM, GE, and Amazon are in a race to build a system that will put this wealth of knowledge to good use. Traditional technologies like electronic health records (EHR) systems have been developed partly to make it easy to store data and create queries to pull information. These systems allow for easy access to pertinent patient information, reduce medical redundancy, and lower costs. EHR can also be used with artificial intelligence to find new information and make new conclusions about medical care for medical staff and information specialists.
However, the drive to monetize patient data must be done cautiously and with a keen eye on accuracy and quality. A survey by Deloitte found that “More than two-thirds of survey respondents stated that the third-party data about them was only 0 to 50 percent correct. One-third of respondents perceived the information to be 0 to 25 percent correct.”
The accuracy of data in the measurements entered, and the quality of correlations found must be considered. In response to the inaccuracy of third-party Big Data, Deloitte recommends to their clients that firms be more prudent in purchasing and collecting information. This more skeptical view of data should apply adequate pressure for data collection bodies to go beyond the numbers to create actual value. The worth of the data is not just the digits; it is also how the information can be used to improve decisions in the C-Suite.
The opportunities provided by Big Data are expansive and potentially life-changing. However, these opportunities must be evaluated holistically and not simply through a cost/benefit analysis. Data accuracy and data quality will be critical to creating better (and lower cost) patient outcomes.
Afua Aning is a physician informaticist.
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