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In business, big data is a term used to describe a large volume of structured and unstructured data that can be mined to identify trends, which can then be analyzed to inform strategic and operational decisions.

But while the data itself is important, the real value lies in what an organization does with it. Big data is becoming an indispensable tool for businesses, and healthcare in particular is beginning to understand big data’s applicability to the industry.

Considering Big Data in Healthcare

The healthcare industry has been continually pressured to accomplish more with less ” to provide increased value at a lower cost.

The industry is constantly gathering data and metrics that help drive its practice, but exactly how well big data analytics are being utilized is unknown. And though larger healthcare facilities can afford to invest in big data, smaller, more rural facilities struggle to afford the technology.

Industry-Changing Potential

Healthcare organizations can utilize big data in a wide variety of ways. Not only can the data help make better financial decisions for organizations and patients alike, but it can also help to determine best practices for interventions and treatment options.

More appropriate treatment options and more timely interventions create a significantly positive downstream effect. For instance, a simple screening for cholesterol, hypertension, or smoking cessation could reduce future medical costs by $38 billion by preventing future medical episodes and identifying and treating conditions before they become chronic issues.

Big data is evolving all aspects of healthcare and can drive the way interventions are made, the timing and length of treatment, and insurance decisions.

Generating New Knowledge

Big data also has the ability to integrate data and, therefore, generate new knowledge. One example is combining big data with predictive analytics.

œIn addition to the typical administrative and clinical data, integrating additional data about the patient and his or her environment might provide better predictions and help target interventions to the right patients. writes Shah and Pathak on Harvard Business Review.

Informed predictions stemming from these data enable healthcare facilities to improve quality of care and efficiency of services by reducing readmissions, preventing adverse events, optimizing treatments, and identifying worsening health states or highest-need populations.

Predictive analysis can also help hospitals estimate the number of patients admitted at a particular time in the future. This analysis is also being used by emergency medical services to help determine where future calls might occur based on historical data.

But that’s not all. There’s also graph analytics.

By analyzing nursing notes, lab results, patient histories, medications, and diagnoses, among other things, graph analytics offer an opportunity to help identify at-risk patients, as well as trends in diseases and their management.

Applying Knowledge from Big Data

One challenge in healthcare’s embracing of big data, however, lies in how organizations will ensures new knowledge is put into practice. Remember, the main point of big data isn’t simply gathering large amounts of data, but coming up with better practices stemming from the data.

As an industry, healthcare tends to struggle in incorporating the latest evidence-based practice into everyday workflows. Oftentimes, knowledge and practice between different facilities can vary drastically depending on their ability to access, learn, and internalize new evidence relating to a certain practice area.

Being able to quickly gather data, analyze it, and implement knowledge into practice would be invaluable in the constantly evolving healthcare world.

Meaningful Partnerships

One last point about the connection between big data and healthcare deals with industry partnerships. A thought leader in the big data space shares news on Forbes about Apple and IBM coming together to create a platform to help analyze a large amount of data in real time.

Apple brought numerous users and a reliable platform to gather data for analysis by IBM’s Watson Health cloud healthcare analytics service. The aim was to discover new medical insights from analyzing real-time activity and biometric data from millions of users.


The healthcare industry is desperate for new ideas and technology that can help create new knowledge, gain valuable insights, make better financial decisions, and increase quality of care.

The use of big data is quickly becoming more commonplace among healthcare organizations with the foresight (and budget) to do so. Which is a welcome trend, as the knowledge derived from big data in the healthcare environment holds the power to literally change the way medicine is practiced.