Far and away, the industry that pops up the most in discussions of big data is health care. It’s not surprising, if you think about it. Lots of disparate sources of data, much of it unstructured. An industry dying to become more cost-effective – or, at least, less wasteful. And an onslaught of new devices designed to automate the process of collecting data, on order to keep professionals from having to be on hand to do so.
Recently, there’s been an even bigger spate of articles about the intersection of big data and health care. The question is, what’s the takeaway for other industries?
On Investopedia recently, writer Trevir Nath broke down six categories in which health care can take advantage of big data: reducing waste and costs, improving both patient care and pharma R&D, lessening government subsidies, and improving digital health monitoring.
He optimistically concludes, “Through more efficient R&D in pharmaceutical, positive patient outcomes, data transparency, and potential for preventive disease methods, analytics is anticipated to save the U.S. economy billions of dollars.” The perspective for other companies: no matter what your field, there are probably areas where better insights can yield lower costs.
Earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, Drew Harris, director of health policy at Thomas Jefferson University’s School of Population Health in Philadelphia, looked at the twin poles of the topic – the ability to create highly customized medicine based on our individual genomes, while at the same time, analyzing patterns of broad demographic information.
“Electronic health records will replace traditional public-health disease and vital statistics reporting systems. Instead of tracking illness and injury weeks, months or years later, near-real-time analysis of live patient health data will enable health officials to track outbreaks as they occur,” Harris wrote.
That doesn’t sound too different from what a retailer needs: an understanding of individual customers’ tastes, along with a sense of where popular culture is going, merchandise-wise. Harris talks about the vast amounts of data and deep amounts of insights wearables will provide, and that’s not necessarily applicable to retail. But I can nonetheless envision a day when an Apple watch transmits changes in pulse rate when someone sees a piece of attire they really, really want.
Perhaps because of its mainstream look at big data, I was intrigued by Newsweek’s speculation last month on how big data could better predict emergency room rush hours. It notes, “Research that will be published in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics combines Twitter posts and air quality and hospital data to form a model that researchers believe can predict emergency room trends more effectively and immediately than existing disease surveillance models.”
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