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July 1, 2017

How Big Data Is Revolutionizing the Health Industry

Big data is quickly becoming one of the most significant advancements in the past decade. It’s contributed to everything from improving election predictions to better-helping college students towards their graduation.

Its impact on the healthcare industry is no different – since we now collect and analyze mind-boggling amounts of data on illnesses, treatments, and patients themselves around the world, the medical space is better able to serve patients and society at large. In the health industry, big data is being used to keep up with rapidly evolving diseases and changing human environments, which helps individual patients, larger populations, and the healthcare industry itself. Here are a few ways big data is revolutionizing the health industry today.

Individual Patient Diagnosis

Thanks to the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR) and the popularity of wearable health devices, researchers can use big data about people’s health status on a large scale to help individual patients get diagnosed and treated more accurately.

More and more hospitals and doctor’s offices are adopting EHR to keep comprehensive records about patients’ health histories. EHR allow a physician to view a patient’s entire health history, regardless of where or how they were treated; a doctor can see a patient’s medical test results, physicals, vaccination records, and more to get a more comprehensive picture of the patient’s needs.

Thanks to a $30 billion federal government stimulus to push its widespread adoption, EHR are being used to share anonymized patient information widely, allowing researchers to use this rich data source to improve the accuracy of patient diagnoses, prescribing treatments, and even predicting what kinds of patients are at risk of certain diseases. Doctors can then use this information to diagnose better and treat their patients.

The fact that one in six consumers use wearable devices like the Fitbit and Samsung Gear Fit further contribute to the big data revolution. Since they collect a constant stream of patient health data like heart rate, activity level, and sleep patterns, they’re a treasure trove of information for doctors and researchers. In fact, some research is already happening with this type of big data: the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance takes data from these sources, analyzes it on a large scale with millions of data points, and uses it to help doctors figure out the efficacy of certain treatments and diagnoses. In this way, individual patients can receive the most accurate level of care.

Population Science

Along with the individual benefits of using big data in the healthcare industry, it has also allowed researchers to study health and illness among large groups to make larger-scale decisions through population science.

The population science field focuses on studying health and illness on the community, national, and global scale. As a result, it relies heavily on big data to figure out death rates, life spans, illness frequency, and patterns of effective treatment options to move healthcare from treating individual patients to fighting large-scale epidemics. Big data helps population scientists predict large-scale problems before they occur, which then allows doctors on the ground to set up treatments in advance.

For example, big data is being used by population scientists in Africa to fight against the spread of epidemics. Researchers are using mobile phone location and disease data to track population movements on the continent, which then helps them predict the spread of illnesses like Ebola. It also helps them figure out the best areas to place hospitals and movement restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Keeping Patients Out of the Office

Although patients should certainly visit the doctor when they need to, big data has helped ease overcrowded doctor’s office waiting rooms by allowing patients to participate in “telemedicine.”

Telemedicine refers to a patient getting treated for an ailment remotely, usually in their own homes, through the Internet. It ranges from self-diagnosis with the help of a resource like and 80% of Internet users search for health information online – to interacting one-on-one with a medical professional online. In a way, telemedicine includes remote clinical services to more efficiently serve patients who are ill but don’t necessarily need to go to a doctor in person. That, in turn, lowers wait times and saves doctors a lot of energy.

So where does big data come into play? The huge amounts of information available about diagnosing and treating various ailments are being used in telemedicine for patients to self-diagnose. For example, scientists have created an AI algorithm that can identify skin cancer using 130,000 images of moles, rashes, and other skin conditions. It’s highly accurate and is being adapted into a mobile screening app so that anyone with a smartphone can check suspicious marks on their skin.

Big data’s influence on the healthcare industry is something to be celebrated – both on large and small scales. In what ways can your health-related experiences be aided by big data?

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