HIMSS News

Big Data - Get a Grip, Define it Before it Defines You!

Mary Rita HylandRick Smolan, a photojournalist, wanted to see how data is defining our lives.

“Data is increasingly defining us, from the information we share on the web, to the information collated by numerous companies with whom we interact,” he said.

Smolan interviewed New Jersey physician, Dr. Brennan, at a large healthcare organization, who utilized “Big Data” to identify that 1% of the patients accounted for 33% of annual healthcare costs.  Dr. Brennan proposed physicians make “house calls” which dramatically cuts their costs and impacts in the emergency room and in follow-up visits.

The simplicity of providing healthcare in the home in the era of “Big Data” is such a wonderful dichotomy of healthcare, merging clinical and financial information and technology, which resulted in a simple suggestion of physicians making house calls. This ultimately changed treatment regimens to the targeted “high risk” population through predictive modeling, development of early intervention programs and changed the perspective of patients through empowering patients and family members through the use of simple technological and social tools which proactively monitors their loved ones, preventing patient hospitalizations.

The healthcare industry has been traditionally reactive, treating a condition once the patient presents with symptoms.  Prevention programs for targeted at risk patients limit costs without compromising the quality of care being delivered.  These benefits can be seen across all stakeholders – patients, providers, government and state agencies and clinics. 

Healthcare organizations are collating massive amounts of information, extracting and analyzing the data every day.  This brings tremendous opportunities, but also creates even bigger risks to an organization if not used and managed wisely.  A hospital consortium and two health systems have launched a “Big Data” pilot project to automatically extract claims and clinical data from their IT systems in order to eliminate manual transfer of data content to more accurately predict healthcare benchmarks for patient care.

Exposure of the data through privacy and security breaches must be at the top of any organization’s list before engagement in such a project.  Not only are you identifying and measuring your facilities risks, technological and security gaps, how you will be extracting and sharing data, but you must also be concerned of your trading partners systems and services.  Have you researched potential partner organizations to determine if they are a “safe” partner to engage?  Do your contracts clearly outline elements of privacy and security requirements of systems, personnel and access?  Have you developed comprehensive policies and practices for the extraction and use of the data?  Do you have the resources necessary to mitigate risks and address potential breaches should they occur?  If your partners span the world, do their countries have laws that mirror the United States?  Keep in mind that many foreign countries have more stringent laws that U.S. organizations must embrace. 

A Frost and Sullivan white paper recently estimated that in 2011, only 10 percent of American hospitals used data analytic tools.  Dr. Eric Topol demonstrated at this year’s HIMSS conference how technology can more effectively treat patients through the use of social networking, smartphones and new applications to effectively monitor and guide care.  As he demonstrated, we are now creating a world of highly individualized treatment. We need to be cognizant and define the information we need to access and protection of Big Data to ensure our healthcare information will remain safe and secure.

Mary Rita Hyland is CPO & VP, Regulatory Affairs, for The SSI Group, Inc. She has over 35 years of professional experience in the healthcare industry in hospital administration and clinical areas, health plans, clearinghouses and vendor IT organizations.  A nationally recognized speaker in regulatory, technical and professional impacts of ICD-10, Mary currently serves on the Board of Directors for WEDI, is Vice President of the Cooperative Exchange and is a member of the HIMSS Health Business Solutions Committee, these HIMSS Task Forces: ICD-10, Financial Privacy /Security and Privacy/Security Policy.