I’ve mentioned wearables on quite a few occasions on this blog, and my earlier sentiment still stands: Wearables make patient engagement infinitely easier, in addition to saving lives.
But there are inevitably larger trends to complement the numerous case studies; the overarching objectives that can only be completed by collecting healthcare data from thousands of individuals. It sounds invasive at first, but the research benefits that can come out of this new technology are invaluable, allowing for minute—dare I say surgical?—adjustments that add up.
So let’s talk about Big Data, an alarmingly corporate term that has the potential to do a lot of good.
Data collection from wearable devices is, as already discussed, a big avenue for insight into patient treatment options. It is the epitome of patient-centered information, an avenue to get individuals engaged in their own health.
What’s even more exciting about wearable devices is their potential to discover latent, possibly dangerous medical conditions such as cancer. As technology becomes more sophisticated and additional biometrics can be tracked at once, comparing multiple anomalies can lead to unexpected diagnoses. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and early detection is worth cumulative tons for users of medical devices.
Genetic data is also a new frontier for data collection. Previously only available to specialists in the field, better distribution of data is improve patient care at the clinical level. Another fringe benefit of this is that patients now have the power to learn of their own genetic dispositions on their own—giving them their own initiative to act on pertinent information.
The mass sharing of data also has the potential to match patients with similar genetic conditions and compare treatment results.
The sheer volume of medical data now available hastens research, making anomalies stand out much more starkly. A large sample size has always been critical in ensuring scientific integrity, and this is about as large as it gets.
Plus, it represents a step forward from clinical trials, the previous norm for pharmaceutical research. While clinical trials are generally executed for a singular purpose, often to appease organizations such as the FDA, they don’t address how real doctors write real prescriptions for real consumers. Big Data allows for a 360 degree view of the population that addresses problems with realistic context.
It comes down to a difference between efficiency and efficacy. Perhaps clinical trials are easier to properly regulate, but they may not produce results that will be valuable to patients. Interpreting mass amounts of data may be a bit different than the norm, and may require a bit more creative thought, but it ultimately enables researchers to have their finger on America’s figurative pulse.
Another scientific tenant that has benefitted greatly by this new surge of information is the 3D human anatomy model. That’s right, you can now explore a skinless reconstruction of the human body with just a click of a mouse thanks to extensive imaging data. The software, called BioDigital Human, has seen usage with both consumers and companies, can be segmented however the user wishes in order to study certain medical conditions.
It really is brilliant that laymen are given access to the platform; an informed populace is a healthier populace, and BioDigital Human presents its information in an understandable, intuitive way. Future improvements on the technology could lead to “road maps” of the body tailored to individual patients.
That said, the sheer value that this data has provided has made it a prime target for hackers looking to make money off of it. It’s not all bad, though; with each attempt made, cyber-security improves by leaps and bounds.
So what’s next for Big Data in healthcare? Well, to be certain, more companies will start to adopt it. As of November 2015, only around 50% of companies had some sort of clinical infrastructure in place. There’s a lot that goes into making this sort of thing possible, and companies will undoubtedly have a lot of catching up to do if they want to compete with early adopters. In fact, precision medicine may be unable to advance further without further electronic data collection.
We’re at a crossroads—poised to take advantage of this information in a big way, but currently just dipping our toes in the metaphorical pool of potential.