Published on August 21, 2014

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

With increasing frequency, we hear more and more people in the health space claim that they are putting “big data” in “the cloud.”

In the past, most big data opportunities were limited; only analysts at large businesses dealt with them. However, mobile technology is expanding the reach and impact of big data sets, empowering individuals domestically and internationally.  Now, health-related applications and technology are starting to saturate the market with ways to track activity, analyze data and change behaviors.

As the costs for collecting data decrease and the questions asked of the data increase, the potential for personal utilization and added value continues to grow.  By evaluating patterns, habits and historical data in addition to tracking current, real-time data, predictions can also be made about future behavior.

Big data is no longer something we use only in hindsight.  Additionally, in the broader health setting, big data is no longer something just for the “C suite” and leaders of a company.  Instead, data can be accessed and assessed for real-time, daily insight into a company, client or individual.

Instantaneous access also means we no longer have to wait for data to process overnight, or at the end of a cycle.  For example, TempoIQ, a time series data storage company in Chicago, specializes in storing and analyzing time series data.  This shows that as sensors, smart meters, and various other health data collection methods grow, companies are already thinking of new ways to assess data in real time.

With the explosion of data that is now being collected via mobile and hand-held devices, a recent IDC forecast goes so far as to predict that “big data technology and services market will grow at a 27% compound annual growth rate to $32.4 billion in 2017 – or at about six times the growth rate of the overall information and communication technology market.”

The use of big data to address health care needs, from prevention to treatment, is growing by leaps and bounds around the world, and the early adopters are making significant amounts of money.  And if the products consumed are marketed and utilized correctly, health outcomes can improve.  This, in turn, boosts efficiency and lowers costs for entire communities and companies.

What this means for you is that, in the coming years, whether you like it or not, big data – and all its boundless uses – will be in your hands. We will all become experts at our own health and care.

Below is my recommended starter kit, a list of resource links that should help to give a clearer picture on how big data will affect your business, and how it can change people’s lives, from health to security to costs to reporting practices.

  • Healthcare and technology experts have differing opinions about the use, abilities and readiness of big data.  However, understanding our collective starting point is very important. Forbes produced a big data fact sheet for reference.
  • How do executives from hospitals, health systems and other provider organizations understand models for innovative uses of data assets that can enable organizations to reduce costs, improve quality and provide safer care? Contributing executives join forces to address those questions at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation.
  • Big data can help develop new treatments and therapeutic products and improve patient outcomes. Several of them will revolutionize the patient experience and greatly improve access to care.
  • Digital-era technologies are changing the entire customer experience.  See who the biggest players in the big data market are.
  • How should privacy risks be weighed against the rewards of using big data?  The recent controversy over leaked documents revealing the massive scope of data collection, analysis, and use by the NSA, and possibly other national security organizations have hurled this delicate issue to the forefront of public attention. Stanford Law Review takes on privacy and big data.
  • Greater price transparency is the key to reining in exorbitant costs and helping patients become more savvy consumers. This methodology and the public release of big data can benefit other markets. However, not all physicians are supportive of their peers letting the public know how much they make.
  • Big data can predict patterns – not only in behavior but in the timing and frequency of service needs. For example, better data can enable services to position ambulances closer to where they are needed based statistically on time of day and season.
  • Advanced Sabermetric-type stats, instant replays, helmet sensors and goal-line cameras are currently deployed in just about every stadium, giving sports fans and teams new and valuable perspectives.  So, what’s next?  What does the professional sports landscape of the future look like?
  • Even “exhaust” data from sources such as Amazon can tell us a lot about human behavior – if we know how to use it correctly.  Or, as one Berkeley professor says, “Say no to data obsession, and focus on the business problem you want to solve.”
  • Big data experts are giving consistent advice on people new to IT.  Big data is coming to industries that have historically struggled to get started with data-driven initiatives. Their best advice: start small.