On the Healthcare Panel Discussion from the Bloomberg Big Data Conference, March 14, 2013, Washington DC

The Bloomberg Big Data Conference, held on March 14, 2013 in Washington DC included a panel discussion on the impact of big data on the healthcare industry. The panel was moderated by Matt Berry, Director of Healthcare Analysis, Bloomberg Government. Panelists included Mr. Oliver Kharraz, Founder and COO of ZocDoc, Ed Park, EVP and COO of athenahealth, and David Riley, Chief of Informatics, Harris Healthcare Solutions.

Matt Berry kicked off the discussion with a question. Why should doctors connected to medical practices of any size care about big data? The first panelist to respond to the question was Oliver Kharraz.

Mr. Kharraz prefaced his answer with two points:

First, he observed that big data plays a familiar role in clinical aspect of the healthcare industry; second, he made reference to Cassandra, the character in Homer’s Iliad who had the gift of predicting the future. Despite her predictions, Kharraz noted, the Trojans failed to act on them, with grim result. We aren’t as familiar with the well known role big data (circa 2013) plays in clinical medicine. Nor do we get the point of the Cassandra analogy. If Mr. Kharraz is correct, and someone is not acting on a highly accurate depiction of future reality based on big data, then someone is either foolish, or, perhaps, big data is not as convincing as Mr. Kharraz claims it to be.

He described a highly connected world, where medical services, events and participants interact within closed loop systems. He claimed these systems make a “huge impact” by providing us with concrete evidence, rather than something abstract, of the efficacy (or lack thereof) of specific treatments for specific individuals. He answered Berry’s question, in part, with a conclusion: access to the big data collected from these close loop systems benefits healthcare professionals. Once they can use the data, they gain a better understanding of “what’s in it for me.” We are less than convinced on this point.

He also described “the social engineering piece of [big data]”. Kharraz summed up this aspect as “just getting the patient to do it”, meaning his or her prescribed treatment, through another application of big data. He noted how his product, ZocDoc, is used to send out “reminders of preventative screenings”. He described how the program can be configured to send out a birthday notice to a patient just turning 50 along with a reminder to schedule a first colonoscopy. ZocDoc, he explained, can pull on a big data repository including “millions and millions” of records of messages sent, to select a likely persuasive message for an individual recipient. But, we ask, at what cost need we outfit our practice with this complex social media system to merely send treatment reminders?

Part of the problem, Ed Park of athenahealth observed, is getting healthcare professionals to stop doing things, for a moment, “to gain insight” with a look at big data. Park took a few moments to demystify big data with a reference to an unnamed clinical organization, which paid an outside firm to analyze terrabytes of data about its patients. The objective of the effort was to come up with a picture of the top 5% of people using its services. The results didn’t tell management at the organization anything new. Park concludes, if we are going to point out to healthcare professionals the benefits they can capture with big data, we need to start, by verifying the value of the data itself. We agree with Park.

In the next post to this blog we will continue a description of this panel discussion.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

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