How important is Big Data in health care? Extremely, and will be even more so in the near future, to the point of transforming and revolutionizing the entire sector.
Extracting, truly understanding, accurately analyzing and defining the value of the patient data mine will create real “new value” in hospital facilities, ensuring more accurate services to the citizen-patient and distributing resources in a more calibrated and virtuous way.
As far as definitions are concerned, the European Commission had already referred to large data in healthcare in 2016, in these terms: “Large data in healthcare refers to large sets of data collected periodically or automatically, which are stored electronically and are reusable in order to improve the performance of the healthcare system”. However, as far as many countries in Europe are concerned, their analysis and management has so far been oriented towards an economism that has not allowed for any profound transformation.
This is a trend that could (and should!) change in the near future. As reported by Wired in a recent article on the subject, in August 2018 European countries (including Italy) signed an important agreement with the American multinational Intersystems, specialized in the management of Big Data in hospitals and in the digital transformation of complete healthcare facilities.
The aim of the agreement is to implement the Trackcare software package, which will allow real-time analysis of patient data, collecting the information within special files shared by both the track operators and the administrative offices.
How big data is used in healthcare
It is easy to understand how a step forward in the real and in-depth use of Big Data in the health sector can generate a very important impact in terms of knowledge of the patient’s condition and of the evolution or involution of any pathology, not only over time, but also in relation to the medical protocols applied.
The analysis of the information that, by its very nature, Big Data provides will also make it possible to resolve and analyze the relationships between the different variables that describe the patient’s vital functions, which can affect their health and therefore also lead to the worsening of any disease.
In this way, it will be possible not only to act promptly by applying the most appropriate therapies, but also to formulate specific strategies and protocols for the management of any relapse and, equally interestingly, to operate accurately in predictive and preventive terms.
Inevitably, more calibrated treatments and services will also make it possible to reabsorb, at least in part, the exorbitant costs of the health service, since the correct management of data will lead to a change from the well-known waiting medicine to the more innovative and high-performance initiative medicine.
The great facts in medicine: what are they for?
There are thousands of terabytes of medical and scientific data, distributed by research projects, publications and digital medical records. If analyzed carefully and with the right tools, they can give the right boost to health research, not only for the production of new drugs, but also for the choice of a new clinical treatment.
Therefore, a potentially inexhaustible database is created, enriched every day through e-Health services, such as the electronic medical record, EHR and the history of appointments, diagnoses and prescriptions of each patient, which are entered and archived thanks to the medical management software used by health centres and professionals.
Among the many data that can be collected about patients, there are also indications of preferences that may not seem very close to the health sector, but which reveal interesting information taken directly from online behavior. A Google search, the content of an email, shared social publications can express citizens’ concerns and priorities. The most classic example is that of Derrick de Kerckhove who, in 2012, thanks to the use of Big Data, discovered that people were more afraid of the outbreak of a new epidemic than of terrorism.
The data to the doctor’s support
Once the large data are made available to the doctor, pharmacist or health professional, the question arises as to how to use them, which in turn hides a crucial question: that of the classification of the data. On the one hand, there is personal data, therefore, related to the citizen-patient, and on the other hand there is organizational data describing the activity of the body in charge of protecting the citizen’s health, whether an ASL or an outpatient clinic.
The combination and wise and competent use of this information can help the health professional in various individual or collective activities, summarized in six points:
- Complexity and precision medicine;
- Care for patients, in particular those suffering from chronic pathologies or those requiring a medium- and long-term continuity of care; predictive and preventive medicine;
- Continuity of social and health care;
- Prevention and predictive medicine;
- Overall reorganization of health processes from the local level to the national health system;
- Open innovation, to encourage dialogue and shared planning between those involved in health care and those involved in social care, the state and business.
Benefits for the patient too?
The potential of large data in medicine is enormous and those who have been studying the sector for years are convinced that it can really innovate and profoundly improve healthcare. The positive effects will, of course, be on the patient. Knowing more information about the patient’s state of health, in fact, would allow us to monitor each one of them in an increasingly personal and “tailored” way.
According to a study published in Technology Review, for example, thanks to large data, it is possible to collect enough information for doctors to know 12 months in advance and with a 98% certainty if a certain drug will cause side effects to a certain patient. Information that can be used to prescribe a different drug, helping the patient to get cured sooner, but also saving money.
To give another example, the careful use of Big Data also allows people to take responsibility for their health, as people can allow them to share certain daily information such as their sleeping patterns or heartbeats. Therefore, any abnormalities are detected and treated immediately.
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