Connecting the healthcare dots with big data

  • Health organisations, universities and public sector working to make data accessible
  • Actionable insight empowers research partners, administrators and front-line clinicians

Connecting the healthcare dots with big dataTHE health industry is in a period of transformation around the globe. Aging populations and the related rise in chronic conditions are driving up costs and complexity.
At the same time, economic austerity, payment reforms and staffing shortages are requiring clinicians to care for more patients and improve results while also keeping costs in check.
Organisations today are also facing an increasing diversity of data. This is being driven by business applications, unstructured social data, connected sensors and devices (the Internet of Things) and other sources.
Health organisations of all sizes and types collect and store enormous amounts of sensitive patient health, operational and financial data.
Despite significant IT investments that have driven the adoption of EMRs (electronic medical records) and enterprise solutions over the last decade, information is still funneled into disparate technology systems, making it difficult for health organisations to gain actionable insight.
Data is also limited to the hands of a small number of people across organisations – such as IT or data scientists – preventing the broadest set of insights from being accessible to the broadest set of people.
And, finally, speed continues to be a critical factor. The right data delivered at the right time to the right person in an organisation is money, particularly in health where it can help clinicians and administrators make well-informed decisions that reduce costs, increase access to quality care, and produce better outcomes for patients.
According to IDC, organisations in the health industry worldwide stand to gain US$109 billion in value from data over the next four years by improving four key data factors: 1) Combining diverse data streams within organisations; 2) using new data analytics tools; 3) delivering data insights to more people; and 4) doing all of this quickly. We call this the data dividend.
So while the industry at large agrees that data is the new currency, the conversation needs to quickly evolve from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’ in order to cash it in.
Right data, right time, right people

Connecting the healthcare dots with big data

Imagine a world where health organisations can gain insight into the health of populations by assimilating data on chronic disease, geographic location, utilisation and costs; where supply costs can be normalised through better predictive analytics that take into account external factors like weather events and supply chain data; and where intelligence can be gleaned from EMRs, clinician notes, lab results and genomic data for research to develop new and better treatments.
These solutions can unify disparate departments within an organisation’s ecosystem and empower clinicians with real-time health analytics to identify health trends and solve problems more quickly.
These are just a few examples of how forward-thinking health organisations, universities and public sector health entities are already working to make data accessible and derive actionable insight that empowers stakeholders from research partners and administrators to front-line clinicians.
In Malaysia, the Government plans to provide all healthcare facilities, patients and insurance companies with a single platform for expedient information-sharing, to help improve the quality of healthcare in the country by 2020.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has actively worked for many years on alerts and advisories about hot spots of infectious diseases, and is furthering this work with partners to see how else it can harness what’s already on-going on the ground, with big data.
And this year, the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) and Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) will be implementing four Big Data Analytics (BDA) pioneer projects, including one on BDA Infectious Diseases Forecasting in collaboration with the MOH.

The health industry is increasing in complexity at a much faster rate, in part due to the explosion and convergence of data sources. Patients are measuring their health and wellness through connected devices, mobile apps and social networks.
At the same time, hospitals are flooded with clinical, enterprise and operational data from EMRs, diagnostic images, supply chain, claims and revenue cycle, and resource management systems.
This will continue to grow as health organisations and the patients they serve become more hyper- connected across devices, people and processes.
Trends informing strategies around big data use within health are:

  • Convergence of social, mobile, analytics and cloud: Technology is finally able to support care delivered in any location through secure, compliant mobile and cloud health solutions that protects patient privacy across devices and settings. Retail, banking and real estate industries have all combined social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies to offer an unprecedented level of customer service, fostering a generation of empowered consumers who expect the health industry to follow suit with care that anticipates and meets their specific needs.
Though some health organisations have adopted discrete social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies, most have not yet connected them to the information systems that are the backbones of their businesses (patient, sales management systems used by insurers and retail pharmacies).
The promise of big data to transform health and social services comes from new capabilities to increase ‘data convergence’ opportunities enabling individual organisations, cities, governments, universities and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to better identify, plan, prepare and react to health trends.
  • A new era of connected health: Data measured by individual patients through wearable technology will soon intersect with the information flowing from the Internet-of-Things driven by intelligent sensors and connected devices, making it possible to gather real-time insight for better population health.
Connecting the healthcare dots with big data

Health organisations of all sizes are using technology to address key challenges namely managing the increasing complexity of data to keep citizens healthy with limited or declining resources, with big data driven insights.
These include:

  • Population health management: Both hospitals and communities are concerned with the health and wellness of their ‘populations’. Increasingly hospital reimbursement is tied to patient outcomes, while governments strive for healthier citizenries to ensure the vitality of communities while keeping costs in check.
At the same time, non-communicable diseases are expected to make the biggest negative impact on people's healthy life years and on the cost of delivering care services according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
For health organisations to cost-effectively improve and manage population health, they will need to generate predictive and prescriptive insights from data from outside their organisation with clinical, financial, and operational data from inside their organisation.
As the percentage of citizens affected by non-communicable diseases grows, analytics applied to hospital, community, economic, social services, geographic and environmental data can result in intelligence about risk factors and emerging trends leading to more proactive interventions and treatment.
  • Cost containment: With the unrelenting economic pressure and rapid pace of change and in the health sector, the promise big data holds for breaking down silos of information within provider systems could significantly lower costs. For example, analytics could reveal best practices for clinical care that can be broadly replicated, which supplies (drugs, medical devices) and processes lead to better outcomes, optimal staffing levels and management of energy resources.

Though we are still in the early stages of truly leveraging data to the fullest, it holds much promise for improving the health and wellness of communities around the globe by advancing research, understanding and responding to trends and containing costs.
Felix Foong is Lead of the Cloud & Enterprise Business Group at Microsoft Malaysia.
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