Digital Health You’ve Got Big Data, Now What

Big data. Five years ago, almost nobody had heard of it. Three years ago, everybody wanted it. Now every healthcare executive you meet is bragging that they’ve got it…

But what, exactly, are you doing with it?

With the multi-million dollars that hospitals and healthcare companies large and small have invested in building the infrastructure for big data, it seems reasonable to expect transformative results. But if you ask many executives around HIMSS 2016, that ROI hasn’t quite hit the mark…yet.

“Big data isn’t useful if it’s not digestible,” says Terry Shaver, Technical Marketing Engineer at ExtraHop. “At this point, most medium to large-sized healthcare organizations have made the investments, the question is now how that data informs top-level decision making.”

The Too-Big Data Problem

At its core, the point of investing the infrastructure to gather massive amounts of information—about patients, timelines, trends, diagnoses and more—should be to bridge the gap between the “boots on the ground” of the healthcare IT field (think doctors, nurses, front desk administrators) and strategic decision-makers at the highest level of healthcare. But as the mass of information continues to grow, the gap between providers and decision-makers seems as wide as ever.

In fact, even the implementation of big data initiatives has been beyond the grasp of many organizations. “The average healthcare IT department takes two years to implement a big data initiative,” notes Greg Karraker, Chief Marketing Officer at Visiquate. “And of those, nearly 40% abandon the project halfway through. It is simply beyond their grasp.” That’s millions of dollars in investments that are in some cases never even seeing the light of day.

Digestible Data

The next step, then, comes to turning that big data into more digestible forms—pieces of information that are useful in directing both long-term strategy and day to day decision making. How many nurses should you staff next Wednesday? Why is a certain region seeing so many asthma-related diagnoses? The data has the answers. We just need to find them.

For many providers, that will mean turning to third-party solutions. “After you get through the failure of trying to do it yourself,” Karraker says, “the best way to succeed is to implement a partner who has a proven track record of digesting the information and making it useful.”

Data-Based Answers to Tomorrow’s Questions

Yesterday’s big data software solutions have tended to hoard information. They use complicated encryptions to limit interoperability, so the systems can’t talk to each other. That means millions of dollars invested in solutions that are at high risk of becoming outdated and therefore useless.

The consistent problem that providers are seeing with big data ROI, Shaver says, is that providers don’t know how to plan today for the questions they’ll need to ask tomorrow or next year—questions that they may not yet even be aware of.

Moving forward, customers need analytics solutions that will grow as the data grows and adapt to changing requirements. “The data is already in your network,” Shaver says. “You’ve just never tapped it before. Our job is to give you the tools and the training to use your data in any way you want, both now and in the future.”

The New Buzz: Big Analytics

For most HIMSS 2016 attendees, the allure of “big data” as a buzzword has long ago worn off. Massive inputs at maximum speed aren’t enough anymore—at least not until we make them useful. Instead, everybody’s talking about analytics. How do you put the data to work? How do you make real-time decisions that reduce readmissions, improve workflows, and eliminate waste?

As with any trade show, of course, the “right” answer depends on who you ask—and what they’re peddling. Third-party consultants. Software solutions to be implemented in-house. All manner of number crunchers and visualizers and advisors. But among all those alternatives remains one common thread: we need to get leaner and more practical than we’ve been before. Two years is too long to spend on a failed initiative. After all this hype, it’s time for a real return on investment.

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