Mining the Mysteries of Big Data

Posted by The Evidence Blog on August 22, 2013

Health Datapalooza, the health data forum that took place this month, focused attention on the explosion of medical information now being collected via medical claims and electronic medical records, not to mention the growing number of public and private entities that are attempting to mine the data and use it to eliminate wasteful spending and inefficient patient care. In fact, the health data industry has been referred to as the "healthcare Silicon Valley."

Much as we analyze data from a clinical trial, examination of collected healthcare data can give us insight into which treatments work for which patients in real-life situations, helping us to better provide evidence-based care. Similarly, analyses enable us to see trends and patterns in spending and utilization of services. We can identify patients who return for readmission after readmission and mine the data to determine the cause and develop a plan to keep those patients out of the hospital for longer periods of time. That’s the positive side of big data.

However, there’s also a downside, especially when it comes to patient privacy issues. Estimates suggest that medical data security breaches occur 4 or 5 times every week, leading to millions of compromised patient records. That’s a huge problem.

If you’d like more information about the debate between data sharing and privacy risks, Andy Oram wrote an interesting piece on The Health Care Blog about the findings from the 2013 Health Privacy Summit, June 5 and 6. His post captures some of the concerns of patients and discusses some of the ways to resolve them.

Another issue for some providers is the sharing of information previously viewed as proprietary. Take, for example, the Medicare provider charge database, which lists charges for the 100 most common inpatient services and 30 common outpatient services. Anyone can use the database to review the prices U.S. hospitals charge for items and services they provide to patients. Such transparency into the cost of healthcare is relatively new, since hospital pricing has been private. Although this database does start to focus the discussion on hospital pricing, it doesn’t give us insight into the value of the services provided. That’s an entirely different conversation. Nor do these data identify what people actually pay for hospital services, since most patients are privately insured, and the insurer has negotiated a certain reimbursement rate.

Nevertheless, big data used wisely has the potential to transform healthcare delivery, and we support its use to identify services and treatments that truly provide value to patients. Do you agree?

Topics: Hayes Blog

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