Big Data

Big Data, Big Research, Huge outcomes: To the Future of Healthcare

Somya Gulati
Sat 11 June 2016


Researchers have been using data for medical research which has impacted the human health tremendously. From an average life expectancy of 31 years in 1900 to above 67 in 2011 is truly fascinating. One might ask on how much more can research help us? Can we maintain this pace or are we at the limits of this? of course not, we are merely at the foothills.

With technology touching the lives of billions of people worldwide, it is estimated that about 7.2 billion people are leaving a growing digital trace relevant to our understanding on how to better prevent and treat diseases. This big data influx is not just valuable to medical researchers and care providers but to governments aiming to be pioneers in medical advancements. President Obama started his speech with “Tonight I give a precision medicine initiative to give all of us the access to personalized information to keep ourselves and our families healthier” back in 2015.

This data largely lies within our health systems in registries ranging from Genomics to Clinical and imaging amongst others, which together holds the key for advancements in medical research. However, the primary challenge in the utilization of these registries exist because of the siloed approach of institutions in maintaining their IT infrastructure. Adding to the problem is also the challenge of utilizing the unstructured data within these silos, the free text or natural language.

So, how do we weave the future of healthcare research? The answer lies in record linkages of many diverse forms of these silos. From the structures coded quantitative formats of medication, genomics, clinical and imaging data to free text which might hold the data about drug side effects. If one wants to learn about the lifestyle of a patient through his diet, free text might hold the true answer because diet is still terribly recorded on across many health systems in the world with solids and semisolids being your only option.

The future of medical research lies with the group of people who can look at this data together. Healthcare visionaries in genomics, cardiology, neuroscience, medicine amongst others face the unmet need of the expertise of data science. This collaboration brings the expertise of not just looking at more diverse but also increasing the cohort size to the table. The white house fact sheet of January 2015 talks about how the future is to “leverage advances in genomics, emerging methods for managing and analyzing large data sets while protecting privacy, and health information technology to accelerate biomedical discoveries”. With about 14,000 ICD-9 codes of diseases identified by WHO, only about 1400 drugs have gained approval of FDA as of 2013. The use of Genome with its complexity is going to give us deeper understanding of these diseases.

Another important question emerging out of the data big bang is – Can just EHR set stage for research? The answer in our humble opinion is a no. For both personalized care and deeper understanding of diseases and deeper research, there are various new external sources which can provide valuable insights to the same. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), wearable devices and fitness trackers sold 78.1 million units in 2015. This data on combination with health records within hospital is a goldmine for personalized care research.

This collaboration of healthcare experts and data science is also the answer to reducing the rising costs in medicine research. The cost to analyze the health information for a million people having a billion data points is effectively zero once you have the effective big data infrastructure in place. Out of the millions that die of various diseases every year, a major percentage fall in the preventable and premature death category. We can use emerging forms of big data to tackle such problems.

So, for a future (predicted) that entails longer (healthier) lives, better care and easier propagation, we need much stronger data and health care collaboration. And as someone famously said, the best way to predict the future is to create it. Let’s start it Now!

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