In this blog I share my thoughts about the exponential growth of data in the healthcare sector and what it means for the healthcare industry. As numerous analyst reports point out, the healthcare sector has the fastest growing data volume of any other sector of the global economy. But how did we get there?
By Boris Rachev, Global Health Economist
In what is considered one of the earliest historical examples of epidemiology, the English physician John Snow embarked on a mission to identify the source of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854. He spoke to locals and was able to triangulate the source – a well of contaminated water. This early example illustrates how data can inform decisions and impact health-based outcomes. At the time of his discovery, John Snow regretted that the lack of sufficient data and a quick response had prevented even more lives from being saved.
Today providers collect terabytes of data from thousands of sources, but they are not yet quick or prepared enough to effectively operationalize it so that it can be acted upon immediately. They store these terabytes in the hope that our ability to capture the exponential growth of healthcare data in the near future will lead to breakthroughs like disease outbreaks being preempted through the continuous monitoring of DNA sequences from sewer water, or virus outbreaks in central Africa being detected well in advance by using data from Twitter feeds.
In the coming years, healthcare organizations will continue to collect more and more highly granular, real-time data and feed it to an analytic core to drive predictive models and take actions to keep their populations healthy.
As global healthcare policy and operations move from a volume-based and provider-centric model to a value-based and patient-centric delivery system, virtually every aspect of the healthcare ecosystem is now somehow tied to electronic data. Data volumes are increasing rapidly due to the complex data solutions to diagnoses, such as genomic sequencing, some institutions are already approaching the 100 petabyte mark. An image in the field of radiology can be as large as one terabyte, and high-throughput techniques can produce petabytes of data annually. Hospitals have long crossed the threshold of adding hundreds of terabytes of data to their medical databases every year.
Simultaneously, consumers and care teams are piling on volumes of health data, which health systems and providers are struggling to absorb and utilize in a shared decision-making model. Connectivity among patients, their families and care teams is introducing new standards of patient engagement that requires even more unique and secure health information to be exchanged digitally in near-real time at multiple points of care.
Better-informed, information-driven, and technology-savvy healthcare consumers are seeking access to specific health and wellness applications to remain healthy and out of hospitals. The proliferation of mobile devices and the rapid improvement in device capabilities are key drivers of mobile health solutions directed at individuals managing their health outside of care settings. Social networks organized by patients and health plans provide support and information exchange to individuals regarding specific conditions and health goals.
The challenge all this poses, of course, is that the size and variety of the data is exploding. With the widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHR), the volume of data will continue to grow exponentially. Comprehensive medical histories, including diagnoses and treatments, can be studied along with bedside monitor feeds and external data sources. The growth in the use of sensor data — both in hospitals and from wearable devices — means datasets are quickly becoming unmanageable using existing methods. Research institutions, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies often produce data that remains isolated in the silos where it is generated.
So, what to do?
This critical question is plaguing healthcare organizations today, and resolving this situation requires a healthcare IT partner capable of creating an environment accommodating each healthcare organization’s dataset peculiar storage and computational requirements. For example, as a healthcare technology leader we at CSC, through our Agile Health approach, are at the forefront of creating the architecture for systems that can rapidly ingest and transform data from all relevant sources; building models that can accurately and precisely alert when action is needed; and producing analytic insights for healthcare providers.
We can help healthcare organizations leverage these information technology solutions to enable healthcare transformation and successful population health management.