What is the Value of Big Data to the Healthcare Industry in the United States in 2013?

The Bloomberg Big Data Conference panel discussion, “Rethinking Risks and Opportunities in Big Data: Healthcare” left us wondering whether the no SQL databases and related tools of big data can deliver high value to the healthcare industry in the United States in 2013. Ed Park, EVP and COO of athenahealth cautioned against simply implementing big data for implementation sake: “Pouring more money into the system hasn’t helped a lot for the last 20 years, and pouring more and more money in over the next twenty years is not necessarily going to help either”. We agree with his point. If IT systems fail to deliver meaningful value, then users cannot be expected to either keep using them, or look to add to them.

We got the familiar sense of a technology with questionable value from the healthcare panel discussion on big data. Opportunities to capture real descriptions of high value from the narratives presented by each of the panelists eluded us. If the best we can do is point to 23andme when citing an example of a business with a high value offer for the public, in our opinion something is missing.

On the other hand, we had a conversation with a colleague from the healthcare industry a year ago with something more meaningful to say on the topic. This individual held a technical management position in the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of the United States Federal Government in Atlanta, GA. The narrative he presented, for us, was much more compelling as he recounted how the Hollywood film “Contagion” actually depicted some of the systems in place at US CDC. The potential for massive repositories of data producing meaningful indicators of where threatening viruses are likely to spread next is a much more obvious demonstration of value than either purchasing one’s personal DNA profile, or crafting a highly persuasive “gentle” reminder to schedule a colonoscopy for someone turning 50.

The predictive capabilities of the US CDC big data systems are also an excellent example of a Cassandra whose warning is never ignored.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved

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