Health Data: it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

2 minute read

Is our obsession with the PCEHR obscuring the real potential of big data to rapidly change healthcare for the better?

What does big data really mean for health? Any chance that our obsession with and the mess that is MyHealthRecord is clouding the potential that big data has to change things for the better rapidly?

The term, now a ubiquitous buzzword in technological circles, comes with a myriad of promises as to the problems it can solve. And everyone’s collecting it. So what is Big Data and what can it do for us?

For a start, what it isn’t, is simply collecting and storing petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes or even yottabytes of data and looking for patterns, without a specific question in mind.

To see what it is, let’s take the example of Vegemite, Kraft’s top brand in 2009, when sales were seen to be falling. More-of-the-same marketing featuring rosy-cheeked children singing the Happy Little Vegemites song wasn’t cutting it.

So turning to data for help, the company found nearly half a million mentions of Vegemite in 38 languages on Facebook, blogs, online news, message boards and other media, according to an article in BRW.

What they found surprised them; Vegemite was often mentioned alongside tomato, avocado, and roast meats, and many people ate the spread in unexpected ways. From that realisation sprang a hugely successful marketing campaign, How do you have your Vegemite? that increased sales by 5% higher than the previous best year.

In the health sphere, there’s no shortage of problems to address. For example, comparative data could guide the improvement of the practices of individual practitioners and institutions. Or detect adverse effects of newly marketed drugs.

But as Dr Steve Hambleton, Chair of NEHTA, told a conference late last year, in Australia right now, our data resides in large but unconnected repositories, such as Medicare, health funds, hospitals, medical practices and pathology labs, and radiology practices.

We know who has had a colonoscopy by looking at Medicare data, but don’t know the result, Dr Hambleton, a former AMA chief, said.

So in a nutshell, Big Data is analysing data from a diversity of sources to address a pre-determined question or problem, then using this intelligence to gain further insights that in turn can drive desired outcomes.

We know what we need to do. We just need to start doing it.

Read our big data feature published today on our email newsletter and in the paper.

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×