While health analytics has been touted as a way to increase efficiency and cut costs, one important benefit should not be overlooked: improving patient care.
By analyzing large quantities of patient data—including genetics, electronic medical records, and the vast amounts of health data that patients are collecting about themselves from sensors and other devices—healthcare providers can significantly improve patient care. They can better diagnose diseases, improve their treatment recommendations, and even assess patients’ risk of future illness. In short, they can take personalized healthcare to a new level of accuracy and efficacy.
Yet, despite the promise, healthcare analytics is still an emerging market. According to a recent Gartner report, only 5%–20% of healthcare providers are currently harnessing big data. Why? Managing big data has historically required a costly, complex infrastructure that few healthcare providers could afford.
The good news is that the situation is changing rapidly. Thanks to cloud computing and simpler, inexpensive technology, health analytics is becoming a viable endeavor for many medical organizations. Tools like Windows Azure, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft SQL Server are already used by many healthcare providers. And Microsoft recently released Power Query for Excel 2013, a business intelligence tool that makes it easy for all employees (not just data scientists) to import and analyze information from a variety of sources—including big data platforms like Hadoop.
Already, some pioneering health organizations have begun using these tools to enhance personal care. Take, for example, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine. A large public teaching and research hospital in Shanghai, China, Ruijin Hospital built an electronic application using SQL Server to help doctors check drug incompatibilities when writing prescriptions. Doctors can quickly check a database to determine whether a prescribed drug is incompatible with other drugs the patient is taking or has dangerous side effects for that particular patient. In addition, doctors are using Power View, a self-service business intelligence reporting tool in SQL Server, to make more accurate patient diagnoses. By analyzing the diagnoses of past patients with similar symptoms—and consulting with the physicians of those patients—doctors can more accurately diagnose the symptoms of each individual patient.
Likewise, the University of Helsinki is using the enormous computing capacity of Windows Azure to hone treatments for individual breast cancer patients. By studying the activity of some 25,000 different genes along with hundreds of different breast cancer tumors, researchers are trying to determine which types of tumors are the most likely to metastasize. With information from these very data-intensive computations at their fingertips, doctors will be able to move away from today’s across-the-board aggressive regimens to more personalized treatments that match the individual patient’s specific diagnosis.
Although still in its infancy, big data is poised to give a big boost to personalized care. Those willing to embrace it will help usher in a new era of healthcare that’s both highly sophisticated and tailored to the circumstances of each patient.
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