Big Data: Let’s Measure its Potential in Kilometers, Not Gigabytes

“Big Data” in medicine usually calls to mind big computers hacking their way through gigabytes of data to find the cures to awful diseases; robotic Ponce De Leon’s searching for the fountain of youth. But as much as we stand in awe of the tools, we should be looking more at how they can be applied to help the lives of billions around the world.

  1. In the coming decades, ‘Big Data’ analysis should facilitate huge strides in at least three areas: preventive treatments, evidence-based remedies and cost-efficiencies in care. Reports indicate that 80 percent of medical data is unstructured, yet still clinically relevant. When it comes to preventive care, aggregating and analyzing unstructured data spread across millions of physicians’ notes, medical forms, insurance claims and other correspondence can produce valuable insight. This vast wealth of quantitative information contains trends, patterns and models that can be universally applied to treating individuals before a disease takes hold.
  2. The application of more structured ‘Big Data’ pools should also lead to more evidenced-based remedies. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) has already set out to enhance the usability of its data for cancer research that supports more precise treatments.MSKCC is using IBM Watsonmuch like our friends at MD Anderson do— to help oncology experts determine “suggested treatment plans.” If public and private sources commit to investing in similar technology, this process can be replicated in any country.
  3. Lastly, consistently integrating insights-driven preventive care and treatments into health systems will help drive down many high costs synonymous with misdiagnoses and reactive treatments.As evidence, McKinsey & Company suggests that regularly making decisions based on relevant clinical data can result in $300 billion to $450 billion in savings for the U.S. healthcare sector. These projected savings indicate there is potential for affordable healthcare, which remains vital in underdeveloped nations where low-cost care is needed the most.

As the technology advances, so must we focus on their delivery and application around the world. It’s a challenge we at the Foundation are embracing. Are you?