Meet Your New Doctor: Big Data

COD NewsroomWill Big Data one day do a doctor’s job? That was just one of the provocative questions explored at the 2014 Big Data in Biomedicine conference hosted by Stanford University in May.

The conference looked at how the exploding volume of health-related information might disrupt the medical industry. Keynote speaker Vinod Khosla, the legendary venture capitalist, didn’t shy away from making a bold prediction: that the growing use of medical data could someday supplant 80% to 90% of a doctor’s role in health-care decision-making.

Khosla believes hard numbers are better than human intuition when it comes to creating effective treatment plans. “Humans are not good when 500 variables affect a disease. We can handle three to five to seven, maybe,” Khosla was quoted as saying in this San Francisco Chronicle blog. “We are guided too much by opinions, not by statistical science.”

It may be hard for the average person to believe their personal physician could be replaced by data and algorithms. Yet, the volume of data gathered from increasingly sophisticated testing and a growing array of wearable computers is exploding. If that information leads to breakthroughs in drug discovery or delivers better outcomes, then Big Data’s potential for improving medical care could be huge.

It’s a big “if.” The challenge for the medical profession is to figure out how to put all this data to use, and there’s no simple solution. Today, much of the data is stored in siloes within health institutions and cannot be shared due to HIPAA privacy rules.

The potential benefits to research are huge, said the dean of Stanford University of School of Medicine Lloyd Minor in another San Francisco Chronicle article.  Sequencing human DNA could generate a whopping 5 billion megabytes of data. As potentially useful as this information is, no medical institution or government agency has put forward a plan for storing, sharing or analyzing any of it.

“No one is sure how to sift through all this data, or even where to put it. In a survey this year of 150 federal government executives in healthcare and health research, more than half said that in five years, fulfilling their agency’s mission will depend on the successful use of big data,” the Chronicle wrote. “Yet only 29 percent of those surveyed had hired trained professionals, or taught senior managers, to manage and analyze big data.”

Until we retool and restaff to realize this vision, the future – including better care and cost reduction – is going to take a long time to arrive.

Image credit: COD Newsroom

Posted in Big Data by Lisa Petrucci

Lisa Petrucci is Vice President of Dun & Bradstreet Global Alliances and Partnerships.

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