Can Big Data Technology Rescue Healthcare?

Alan Stein ,Vice President, Medical Technology at HP Autonomy

Healthcare is a special field; it’s intensely personal. Irrespective of our career choices, we’ve still all experienced the pain of sick friends and family, and we’ve all tried to help loved ones heal. So as a young physician, I was appalled when I realized that the practice of medicine could be excruciating. While I loved the personal interactions, the engineer in me continually identified broken systems: it was a common experience to copy numbers from a computer monitor to a notecard, only to re-enter these values moments later into a different application. And my experience was not unique; I saw the same issues repeated in the lab, pharmacy, infectious disease, and elsewhere in the hospital. Even as I carried electronic organizers and, later, smartphones, for my personal use, it was accepted practice that physicians should memorize a plethora of drug interactions rather than depend on technology. Medicine has been years behind the state-of-the-art.
Technology is how our species harnesses science and engineering to improve our lives. Our medical technology has revolutionized healthcare, enabling astounding cures and treatments which bring improved quantity and quality of life. The potential big-data healthcare analytics can achieve will make even our immense medical progress to date look trivial. From uncovering medical coding discrepancies and identifying over/under-treatment, to reducing re-admission rates and optimizing population health management strategies, big-data can bring specific immediate benefits that address quality and costs. We’re about to change the very paradigm of medical research by entering a time when every treatment and patient record contributes to a grand clinical study from which we derive continual improvements in care.

But our application of healthcare technology is suffering. We are continually confused as to whether our primary objective is to make money, cut costs, or promote wellbeing. Despite clearly unsustainable healthcare costs and a shortage of clinical resources, the misalignment of incentives in our healthcare system continues to impede essential advances. Legislative drivers are shaped by a complicated triangle of relationships between payers, providers, and patients, each having very different and competing priorities in their quest to minimize expenditures, maximize profits, and seek positive healthcare outcomes. And our rollout is further complicated by the fact that healthcare technology adoption is challenging due to complicated workflows and a unique medical culture which is not easily understood by those in other domains.

Advancing healthcare is a multidisciplinary entrepreneurial challenge spanning the interface between medicine, engineering, and business. It requires both breadth and depth of expertise, in order to navigate among the multitude of challenges we face.But more importantly, we must remember that healthcare isn’t about business models and technology; our passion to succeed must arise from a desire to improve our world. Healthcare is fundamentally about taking care of each other. If we keep this in the forefront of our endeavors, the results will be well worth our efforts.


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