Smartphones and other mobile personal technologies have led to a revolution in big data collection. We now have the ability to track and monitor all the factors that might impact our health on a real-time basis. Whether it’s the calorie content of your food, the exercise you’re getting, the weather at your location or any number of other things, we can collect an incredible amount of information about our lives.
While we’re collecting all of this data, the real challenge is in making any use of it. The potential of it all is downright staggering. Currently we’ve got a lot of individual data sets, but if we manage to connect that data together in a larger format where we can track and manage the many factors impacting health conditions, there are amazing opportunities to “personalize” and dramatically increase the effectiveness of healthcare treatments.
The concept of “personalized care” is a relatively new notion in healthcare whereby treatment for a condition is specifically tailored to a person’s lifestyle, genetics and environment. Many modern conditions have variations in them and cannot be universally solved with a vaccine or a single drug treatment. Big data, when applied to healthcare, involves the collection of all the data that can impact a person’s health condition, and then aggregating that data with other people in similar conditions to help find symptom management and treatment options that wouldn’t otherwise be evident.
One of the most fascinating things to consider when it comes to big data in healthcare is the beneficiaries. The first and most obvious beneficiary is the patients, because they gain better health outcomes. However, insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies are also beneficiaries of a trend towards more personalized healthcare.
The collection of the data required for personalized healthcare, and big data in general, requires individuals to become much more thoroughly engaged with their own healthcare. Tracking your behaviours with regard to your health makes people less likely to skip regular medicine doses (a common health issue), which increases sales for pharmaceutical companies as well as increasing the perceived effectiveness of their products as people follow their prescription instructions more closely.
Anything that results in better health benefits for individuals will be of a net benefit to the insurance industry, because it will lead to lower costs for them.
The Challenges Big Data Faces
One challenge in using big data in healthcare is how the information is used. Ultimately, the data that is needed to find the small factors that influence health must be voluntarily provided, as individuals are both the source of the data as well as the first step in collecting that data.
However, discoveries in this field are often double-edged. If we find a new risk factor in health, it might result in a decrease in insurance rates for some people, but it will likely increase insurance rates for others.
A second challenge any big data initiatives in healthcare must face is ownership of information. This is similar to the challenges faced by Facebook and other social networks with regard to content created by users.
Which brings us to a third challenge faced with using big data in healthcare: information security. While many individuals won’t mind their data being used anonymously as part of a larger pool, there needs to be security provided for individual data.
On the bright side, most of the challenges involved with using big data in healthcare are similar to ones facing other mobile applications. Companies collecting big data for healthcare need to continue being transparent with regard to their motives, being accountable and creating confidence with their users in order for people to voluntarily submit large amounts of personal medical data.
Provided that we figure out how to correlate the incredible amounts of information we’re collecting, personal technologies and big data might lead to the next revolution of healthcare.
If you want to hear more about the challenges and possibilities of big data and healthcare, come to HealthConnectTO, register online!