The term ‘Big data’ has been making rounds in the healthcare space for quite some time. So far, we have witnessed how Big data has been availed to carry out data integration, population health management, care management, referral management and quality reporting. But, there is another very crucial aspect where Big data is playing its part. Beyond increasing operational processes and efficiencies of a given network, Big data in healthcare is being used to predict episodes, cure disease, improve quality of life, and avoid preventable deaths.
As quoted in the 90’s comedy-drama Patch Adams, “A doctor’s mission should be not just to prevent death but also to improve the quality of life.”, and to fulfill this need, it’s most needful that the quality of health is kept from deteriorating. A simple term for this phenomena is ‘preventive care’; which entails regular check-ups, screenings and immunizations. But, why do we need preventive care? Well, it is smarter to avoid bad things from happening rather than having to fix them later.
Importance of preventive care
Keeping preventive measures in mind, providers can consciously work towards improving the quality of care based on quantifiable measures such as the number of ED visits, readmission rates, and length of stay. Preventive care also involves keeping the various socio-economic factors of the patient population in mind. Awareness of any disease breakout or virus of any kind in a locality can help prevent many people from getting affected if they are vaccinated against it at the right time.
For the sake of an example, let’s assume Cooper is a morbidly obese and diabetic patient and that classifies him as being chronically ill. His doctor advised him to undergo a bypass surgery as a precautionary measure in order to prevent him from encountering a cardiac arrest. This decision to treat him before he became seriously ill would save Cooper’s life. Furthermore, he wouldn’t have to deal with deductibles or copayments that come with diagnostic care and anyhow, there’s no cost-sharing in preventive care.
Also, this would mean that the provider avoided an ED visit count by giving the patient a safety net before an anticipated risk. Ultimately, the quality of care will go up as the number of ED visits will come down.
Detecting diseases before they take up a shape and form is a powerful tool that helps save millions of lives every year. Digitized healthcare has great promise in store for healthcare. Through digitization, it would be possible to provide care without being physically present as it becomes a taxing activity more often than not, especially when a scant number of physicians are catering to a relatively large patient population. Delivering advice with use of cellphones and video calling applications will save time, money and effort. Preventive care also involves patients taking care of their own health. For this, they may seek the help of their physicians. Technology can also make it easier for individuals to manage their own health. For example, adults with diabetes can use mobile technology to access data on their blood glucose levels and ways to manage them.
Challenges in Adopting Preventive Care
Preventive care calls for regular check-ups and screenings which lets the patient and the provider work as a team which eventually leads to shared decision-making. Based on the patient’s personal health records, chronic health data, and latest tests the physician can help the patient to get the most relevant tests and screening done.
Current statistics show that U.S. ranks last among industrialized nations in preventable deaths. The U.S. could prevent 100,000 deaths annually if rates were similar to high-performing nations. Below are some challenges that may explain this phenomenon:
1.) Rigid Ideology of Patients
There has to be a change in the attitude of patients, a majority of whom will not go to the doctor unless sick. Patients tend to not consult their doctor when they feel healthy but if they could be made aware of the importance of regular check-ups then they could reduce their chances of falling sick by a huge margin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only about 25% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 years are up to date on preventive services such as cancer screening and immunisations.
2.) Cost Barriers and Budget Allocation for Providers
Providers need to have a proper budget to implement preventive care. Since private insurance plans cover recommended preventive services without any cost-sharing on behalf of the patients, they should be liable to allocate a proper budget for providers to implement a comprehensive preventive care program in their facility. Along with that, concerned authorities should sanction budgets to build an IT infrastructure in their respective hospitals.
3.) Inadequate Time and Staff
Physicians don’t have time to go through every record of every patient all the time. If they can have all the information they need on one screen to treat a patient, it would save them a lot of time and effort. Because there are way more patients- healthy and unhealthy- than there are physicians, the physicians don’t have the time take preventive care of their patients when they are busy treating serious ailments. This is where health coaches can be really helpful to physicians who can help them with their preventive care efforts.
4.) Lack of Infrastructure in Rural Areas and IT
It’s not easy to carry out preventive care because of lack of infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. People living in rural areas don’t have the kind of connectivity which can help them drive preventive care properly. Moreover, the kind of IT backbone required to crunch the massive patient data, understand social determinants, and make this possible in real-time for better outcomes is still miles far.
5.) Misaligned Incentives for Physicians
Patients and sometimes providers are not paying attention to health care when patients aren’t showing any signs or symptoms. There should be proper incentive for care teams to pursue preventive care. Since, the change can only be seen gradually, patience is required. And for patience, viability and sustainability of an operation are crucial till the outcomes have been delivered.
Implications of using Big data
Big data solutions applied in healthcare have shown exceedingly great results. As practices grew bigger and the physician and patient population increased, Big data made an impact in the industry by showing how processes can be improved.
Some factors are still holding back the full utilization of Big data in healthcare such as the lack of technical expertise and lack of solid security. Big data in healthcare has been largely limited to research work. They need data scientists. Perhaps the only reason healthcare has lagged behind sectors like retail and banking in terms of utilizing Big data is the concerns about patient confidentiality.
Judy Davis was a single mother, who regularly consumed cigarettes and coffee. Her health care plan made her eligible for free preventive services which included breast cancer screenings. After her mammogram displayed a fairly large lump in her breast, her doctor suggested that she get a biopsy done. Once it was revealed that she has cancer, she went through several months of radiation and treatments and was ultimately cured of the disease.
Had she not gone for a check-up at the preventive care service centre, her cancer would have probably gone undetected for a longer time. By taking preventive measures in a timely manner, she managed to catch the disease at an early stage when it was easily treatable.
The Road Ahead
Our vision should not be restricted to the diagnosis of disease and its treatment. What healthcare stakeholders really need to be racking their brains over are ways to improve the quality of an individual’s life. Any healthcare organization will work in this direction if they wish to create a world with a healthy population, low mortality rates and low hospital ED visits. We want to do it by giving physicians the ability to nip a chronic illness in the bud. Patients and providers need to be on the same page at every stage of preventive care procedures.
When we have all the tools within our grasp, why should we not work towards preventing people from falling sick? Technology has already made great advances in this field, now it’s time for data and Big data analytics, in particular, to mark its footprint in healthcare by enhancing the patient care experience.
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