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Big Data and Health Care: A Match Made in Heaven


I’m no big data expert, but I don’t have to be one to see that big data and health care are a perfect match for each other. Big data has been a buzzword in the tech industry for quite some time now. With the widespread adoption of electronic health/medical records (EHR/EMR) systems, big data analysts are looking toward health care as a new industry to target. Before diving into how health care can benefit from big data, we should discuss what “big data” means and why it’s taken so long for big data analysts to focus on health care data.

What is big data?

My favorite definition that I found that was an accurate description of big data in 2017 is simply, “collecting large amounts of data and doing something with it.” You can also think of big data as a set of methodologies to consume large amounts of data and doing calculations on that data to make predictions or gain insight. An example of big data in use is Walmart’s extraordinary success in correlating Pop-Tarts sales with natural disasters.

Walmart’s great big data success!

In 2004, Walmart decided to analyze their sales data during Hurricane Charley to see if they can gain insights on customer buying habits to prepare for Hurricane Frances. What they found was that in an attempt to prepare for Hurricane Charley, customers bought tons of dry food, which included Pop-Tarts. Using this insight, Walmart increased their stock of Pop-Tarts and sold seven times more Pop-Tarts than normal during Hurricane Frances.

Why now for big data in health care?

Countless industries have seen benefits from big data for many years now, but unfortunately health care has only started its big data journey. The biggest reason is because health care was dominated by paper processes. It wasn’t until the approval of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act in 2009 that health care organizations started to adopt electronic health care records. Now that the health care industry has matured into the world of technology, researchers finally have a set of data points to work with.

Uses of big data in health care

The benefits of big data in health care are clear. By using health care data, researchers can start analyzing data for trends and patterns that may help in predicting general patient health, readmissions, patient deterioration, or best treatments for specific diseases. As a direct result of gaining insights, patients will receive better care. Using big data, the health care industry can transform from reactive care to proactive care.

Sources
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/business/yourmoney/what-walmart-knows-about-customers-habits.html?mcubz=1
https://web.stanford.edu/class/cs102/notes/CS102DayOne.pdf

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