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Big Data = Big Opportunities!

Written by Don Ross // 04 May 2012 //

At last week’s 2012 GSB Healthcare Innovation Summit at Stanford University, Big Data was the opening theme. Todd Park, Health and Human Services CIO launched the Summit with a talk about breaking open silos of data for access by entrepreneurs.

In the healthcare arena, the Health Data Initiative seeks to replicate the success of weather data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When NOAA made weather data public and accessible, an entire industry was spawned (e.g., The Weather Channel, weather websites, weather mobile apps, and more). A rising tide of organizations is making data accessible for third party analysis, and this movement is exemplified by http://bluebuttondata.org.

What is Big Data? It is comprised of data sets that are too big for commonly-used software to capture, access, analyze and manage quickly. Sizes currently range from dozens of terabytes to several petabytes. Because the information held in the data is changing constantly, it’s a dynamic, ever-moving target.

The challenges in accessing Big Data are substantial. The US healthcare system generates mountains of data every year, but mostly in inaccessible forms such as books and pdf files. The data are not “liquid” (standardized and machine-readable). The push for electronic medical records will help substantially, but we’re still in the early stages.

Even with liquid data, regulations for healthcare privacy and HIPPA can be daunting. Our healthcare system has been built on sharing data with the smallest circle of “need to know” people. Providing ready access to third parties won’t be easy. Historically, healthcare companies have protected any data they collected as valuable intellectual property not to be shared with others.

The US healthcare domain has four distinct pools of data, with little overlap in ownership or accessibility.

  1. Pharmaceutical R&D data – clinical trials and high throughput screening libraries
  2. Hospital clinical data – electronic medical records
  3. Insurer claims and cost data – care utilization and costs
  4. Consumer data about patient behavior – retail purchase history, captured exercise data, emerging digital health sector

The low hanging fruit in Big Data may be new business models based on online consumer platforms and communities. Examples include PatientsLikeMe.com for shared patient experiences. Because it is opt-in and data is provided by consumers, HIPAA and other regulations do not apply. More difficult but equally ripe with opportunities are medical cost transparency, comparative effectiveness research, clinical decision support, and remote patient monitoring,

The proliferation of digital healthcare data, from the wired consumer to clinical records to claims information, is fertile ground that is ripe with startup opportunities. The prospects for new business models and Big Data entrepreneurs have never been better. 



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