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Healthcare data

Big Data in Other Industries & Lessons for Healthcare

While other industries like retail and entertainment have been able to leverage big data in impressive ways, healthcare has struggled to do so. Issues unique to the healthcare system do, however, make leveraging big data for better business intelligence a challenge:

  • A fragmented system of providers
  • Dated and/or inadequate IT infrastructure
  • HIPAA and other regulatory concerns
  • Interoperability challenges
  • Lack of standardized data

Let’s look at other industries and the role of big data in them and some examples of similar activity within the healthcare industry.

The Internet of Things

A recent Forbes article predicts that the Internet of Things (IoT) – fueled by big data – is and will continue to revolutionize retail:

  • 73% of retailers rate managing big data as important or business critical to their operations.
  • 78% of retailers say it is important or business-critical to integrate e-commerce and in-store experiences, so an omnichannel experience is delivered to every customer.
  • By 2021, 70% of retailers are planning investments in the IoT to bring greater visibility into supply chain operations to alleviate out-of-stocks and optimize selections based on customer preferences as well as give a greater voice to customers and improve the customer experience.
  • By 2021, nearly 79% of retailers will be able to customize the store visit for customers as a majority of them will know when a specific customer is in the store.

Connecting the dots between the IoT and healthcare, a HIMSS article highlights three ways the IoT can improve healthcare in ways not unlike the world of retail:

  • Operational Efficiency: Anyone who works in healthcare knows that operational issues from tracking patients to managing inventory, equipment and time (to name just a few) are big challenges. Implementing solutions such as RFID and mobile scanners connected with cloud technology can help alleviate and even resolve many of these challenges. It can help hospitals and their people have the resources on hand when and where they need them and avoid overstocking. Real-time location systems (RLTS) also have dozens of different uses within healthcare, from tracking and locating patients to keeping track of expensive medical equipment.
  • Improved Patient Care: Better allocating time to patient care versus manual tasks like documentation can be assisted with mobile devices and wearable technologies with comprehensive electronic medical records stored on them. These tools can help clinicians spend less time doing needless testing, asking redundant questions and eliminating errors.
  • Leadership and Innovation: Healthcare organizations can use big data to find common patterns and anticipate what’s on the horizon. IoT technologies can help the healthcare industry improve performance and innovation.

Big Data for Better Patient Experiences

In retail, market-basket analysis, customer segmentation and centralized customer data and intelligence are the top tech initiatives retailers are prioritizing. Within healthcare, similar tech priorities will be needed to meet patients’ expectations and for healthcare organizations to stay competitive.

Here are a few interesting examples that we found where healthcare systems are leveraging big data for better patient experiences.

An article from Kaiser highlights how hospitals in Alameda County (San Francisco, CA) – fueled by a desire to avoid hospital readmission penalties – are teaming up to share patient health records and other data in real time among their emergency departments to prevent frequent ER visits. The effort is also focused on better serving patients who do visit multiple ERs by sharing data to prevent duplicate testing and other services.

Another example of improving the customer experience and providing better care is taking place at The University of Pennsylvania. Oncologists and data scientists are digging into patient data to generate a formula to predict ER visits among oncology patients. They are using big data to prevent cancer patients from needing to go to the emergency room by developing alerts that prompt physicians to intervene earlier and provide service at a clinic or at home.

On a population health level, as a diagnostic tool, big data allows doctors to build patient profiles and diagnostic maps for diseases and disorders. Diseases as common as the common cold to large-scale epidemics and pandemics can be better treated and managed.

An example of this can be seen in the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014, where big data was used to combat Ebola’s spread. The effort started with mobile mapping, allowing the CDC and Swedish non-profit Flowminder to both map typical population movement patterns as well as measure where cases seemed to be popping up. By tracking sources of calls to helplines, they could understand and predict outbreak locations. 


Given the pace of technological advances across all industries, it’s only a matter of time before big data transforms healthcare as it has and continues to do in other industries. Healthcare has some unique challenges to overcome. But, as you can see by the examples we’ve shared here, innovative healthcare systems are already leveraging the power of big data to improve their operations, patient care and bottom line.

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