By Bill Goodwin

Three Tips to Prevent Big Data From Causing Big Problems

Three Tips to Prevent Big Data From Causing Big Problems

If you are like most leaders in business, you hear the words “Big Data” being used in promotions, internal meetings, vendor presentations and more. Big data – to an increasing extent – has become synonymous with “we can help you find the answers you need and improve profits.”

And, there is some truth in this statement. According to the International Institute for Analytics, businesses that use data will see $430 billion in productivity benefits over their competition not using data. Forrester predicts that real-time streaming insights into big data will be the hallmarks of data winners going forward. Without a doubt, data can help us make better more informed decisions. However, it is possible to over-rely on big data as a panacea for answers to complex healthcare business decisions.

Countless times I have been in meetings with vendors, internal personnel and clients where healthcare big data is mentioned in some form or another as being the solution to helping (better yet telling) them what to do. The competitive pressure in all markets today forces individuals to make decisions faster and more accurately, so the appeal of fresh insights from new clinical data analysis becomes extremely appealing.

In many ways, tapping into healthcare big data analytics can help, but all of us should be extremely careful about placing too much stock in there always being clear, action-oriented and effective go-forward strategies to be found in big data. In fact, I have been in front of many prospective clients over the last few years and they mention, albeit sometimes reluctantly, that they have been burned by previous companies who offer data-driven tools designed to provide answers they had previously been unable to find. So not only has big data in hospitals been marketed as the solution, it has also started to develop a reputation as being overrated.

Big data, more accurately described, is a general, all-inclusive term for a variety of complex data collection, processing and analysis generation that traditional applications are unable to handle. There is no question the accumulation and analysis of new data can be helpful to every organization. However, take ten organizations in the same industry that have the same big data inputs and I guarantee all will come out with different conclusions on what they should do next. Seems logical, yes, but how do you ensure your organization is not one of the ones that makes a critical misstep?

While big data can certainly provide critical insights for healthcare decision makers, we must approach big data cautiously and through a measured perspective. Here are three important considerations with regard to big data to leverage immediately:

  • Be Aware of Personal and Internal Bias
    All analyses have some level of personal or organizational bias. Whether it is how the analyses are set up or how the information is interpreted, it is essential to a) know there will always be bias and b) try to factor that out in the final interpretation. In other words, while there is no way to fully eliminate bias, you can be aware of what it is and modify your interpretation accordingly. Most leaders are aware that there is bias in all analyses, yet some continue to make decisions without taking bias into consideration.
  • Understand Correlation Versus Causation
    I have seen too many leaders make detrimental decisions when they mistake correlation with causation. High positive or high negative correlation does not always mean causation, whether one is looking at two variables or a multi-variable analysis. Be sure to factor this in before any major decisions are made. Dig deeper, look at the problem or opportunity from more angles and get other viewpoints before settling in on the final decision.
  • Tap Into Your Intuition
    In this new data-driven society, we are becoming so data dependent that using intuition is becoming a thing of the past. In fact, I would argue the art of intuition has been lost in many organizations. We have all had situations where the “data” told us to turn left, but our gut told us to turn right. And, how many times did all of us turn left due to an analyses only to find out right was the better direction? Intuition is essential to any decision-making process and simply cannot be excluded. If you don’t have a good feel for the decision you need to make, rely on data more. If your intuition is telling you what decision you should make, pay more attention to it, regardless of what the analysis suggests.

Some data experts predict that we have already begun to move away from the era of big data in favor of “fast data” and “actionable data,” noting that most businesses don’t use a fraction of the data they have access to and should focus on asking the right questions to make the best use of data, big or otherwise. Certainly these data analytics changes will enable us to continue to enhance our insights and subsequent decisions.

With the continual advancement of how we access and analyze big data, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a necessary component of healthcare decision making – but it’s not the only factor. Regardless of the direction that big data goes, coupling the knowledge gained from data with our experience and intuition – and knowing when to favor one over the other – will become increasingly important in our complex healthcare landscape.

Bill Goodwin is CEO of INTELLIMED, a leading healthcare analytics company.