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Why Digital Health Will Need Big Data to Support Its Infrastructure

Healthcare IT leaders must lead the charge to deploy big data analyses across the continuum of community medical services.

Rapidly expanding medical needs and a whirlwind of technological innovations has created a mass of data that no healthcare organization can ever hope to manage manually, according to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). Resultantly, a growing number of organizations recognize big data systems as a solution for maintaining information infrastructure.

By compelling lawmakers to consider informatics when making decisions, IT leaders can ensure that the medical field meets goals for deploying big data technologies and improving community health outcomes.

How Care Providers Use Big Data to Improve Public Health

One example of how organizations use big data to improve public health outcomes is the United States Department of Veterans Affair’s deployment of analytics to improve treatment outcomes and well-being for veterans.

In 2018, nearly 5 million veterans received VA disability. The information in their medical records can provide healthcare organizations with a wealth of data that can help improve the emotional and physical well-being of their fellow veterans. To do just that, the VA partnered with Alphabet to develop technological innovations that predict the likeliness of illness and injuries among veterans.

For many veterans, it’s a challenge to maintain their physical and emotional health after service. Resultantly, the VA has conducted many studies researching this unfortunate phenomenon in the hopes of improving the quality of life for American vets.

One such program addresses suicide among veterans. Researchers estimate that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Resultantly, the VA launched the REACH VET Program to address the needs of at-risk veterans.

The program leverages the vast wealth of veteran healthcare-related information maintained by the VA. Using advanced analytics, the agency reviews historical data to forecast the potential future actions of program members as it pertains to suicide risk. By identifying patient health information, the REACH VET program performs suicide interventions with a high percentage of successful outcomes.

The Promise of Better Healthcare With Big Data

In India, the mHealth program is producing phenomenal results for the population. Most lower-income individuals in the region possess cell phones. Resultantly, cell phones are the most accessible, cost-effective resource for data collection among low-income groups.

Consumer cell phones in India have become a strategic tool for promoting improved health outcomes among at-risk groups in the region. Care providers there use cell phones to collect various data and perform other health-related tasks, such as:

  • Epidemiologic surveillance
  • Health surveys
  • Patient monitoring
  • Public health awareness promotion

As a result, public agencies have been able to successfully leverage mHealth technologies and practices to digitize the delivery of many initiatives to improve the quality of life for many low-income individuals.

For instance, officials have been able to monitor overall community health and forecast the ongoing pharmaceutical needs of specific groups. By monitoring mHealth data, officials can also stay informed about common diseases that might run rampant if left unchecked.

When officials understand how diseases spread among the population, they can deploy effective interventions. Furthermore, they can use that information to spread awareness about public health threats. Also, public agencies can use technology to expand their influence and reach populations that are typically difficult to access due to geographic barriers.

Challenges Lie Ahead

The healthcare informatics field is in a period of radical transformation. Currently, there is a whirlwind of legislative, governance and operational changes afoot in the field. As a result, consumer and institutional stakeholders express concern over how to protect the privacy and rights of patients.

One point of view is that a wealth of information enables health care vendors and service providers to deliver highly personalized offerings. However, not all consumers welcome the idea of revealing sensitive medical information, even if it is anonymized. For now, the ethics of health care information as it applies to the latest innovations to emerge is still a vast gray area.

Healthcare leaders are still learning how to mitigate the risks involved in managing sensitive patient information. Nevertheless, the analysis of patient information is essential for empowering healthcare providers to make data-informed decisions.

For now, organizations struggle to find a balance between privacy and innovation. Some healthcare IT thought-leaders promote the idea of keeping identifiable information firewalled and only allowing anonymized data to travel to off-premise servers.

Continuous patient health information monitoring and analysis enables service providers to deliver improved treatment outcomes. What’s more, data-informed public health leaders can execute interventions to prevent illnesses from spreading among the population.

The benefits of healthcare informatics are glaringly apparent. Ultimately, the more data that care providers can gather and analyze, the better equipped they are to develop highly effective interventions.

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