Big Data has been a tough nut to crack for many, the healthcare industry included. According Farhad Manjoo in his recent article for Fast Company, “There are so many blue-sky proclamations for what’s become known as Big Data that you need a data scientist to track them all.” In the healthcare world, Big Data represents the ability to comb through massive amounts of patient data to spot trends and help doctors care for patients proactively.
Manjoo cites an example from Washington D.C.’s Washington Hospital Center to describe just how much Big Data can reveal to even the most watchful practitioners. In this case, ER doctors noticed a troubling trend: similar to many other emergency rooms, many patients would return to the hospital a few weeks after their discharge, having become ill again. When the ER staff could not pinpoint any particular cause for the problem, the hospital turned to Eric Horvitz, a physician working for Microsoft Research.
As Manjoo writes, “Horvitz’s main investigative tool is data. He and his colleagues built a system to analyze more than 300,000 ER visits. They looked for correlations among 25,000 variables, including the patients’ medications, vital signs, and doctors. In the thicket of information, Horvitz stumbled upon a few intriguing surprises. One was the length of a patient’s stay in the hospital. Horvitz’s data showed a tipping point of 14 hours–if you’re in the ER for longer than that, there’s a good chance you’ll be back. Another red flag was fluid. The data showed that any mention of that word on a patient’s medical chart significantly increased the likelihood of readmission.”
But, just how great an impact can Big Data truly have? Beside the obvious benefits to the patients themselves, healthcare providers stand to gain an enormous amount as well. Horvitz and his team have created a program called Readmissions Manager, now a part of Microsoft’s healthcare package. Says Manjoo, “[The software] analyzes hospital data to produce a readmissions forecast for each patient, and doctors can tailor follow-up appointments based on the forecast. How much will this reduce costs? Horvitz is formulating clinical trials now to assess the savings. Studies show that 20% of patients released from American hospitals need to be readmitted within 30 days, an inefficiency that costs Medicare $17 billion a year.”
Clearly, Bid Data is a very big deal.