Big data in the healthcare world has potential, but what for?

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Roughly two-thirds of the 258 decision-makers at health insurance companies, hospitals and health systems surveyed by the Society of Actuaries stated that they are excited about the potential of big data, while 87 percent think the information streams will have an impact on the future of their business.

"Big data is going to change everything," said Carol McCall, Society of Actuaries health fellow. "The promise of big data not only lies in our ability to leverage data on such a vast scale to improve what we're already doing, but in using it to identify and pursue opportunities that simply weren't possible before."

How will big data play a role in healthcare?
While many healthcare professionals say that big data is going to make a difference in the coming years, just how large of a factor analytics will become in the industry is still in question. Will big data improve hospital inventory management? Can patient care become more personalized if physicians have better access to information? Do healthcare facilities have the workers necessary to maximize the potential of big data?

"There's a lot of confusion about what to do with big data, not just to create meaningful insights, but to create insights that translate into meaningful action," McCall said.

With less than half of respondents admitting that big data does not currently benefit their business right now, it is becoming increasingly important for healthcare executives to understand how the massive information streams can provide them with a competitive advantage.

Big data personalizes healthcare
There is no better way to show the potential of big data than by providing a real-world example of how access to patient information is making healthcare better. Researchers at Notre Dame have been experimenting with big data and were able to create a system that personalizes disease risk predictions and improves the well-being of patients.

Notre Dame Computer Science Associate Professor Nitesh Chawla and his doctoral student, Darcy Davis, developed the initiative, which is called the Collaborative Assessment and Recommendation Engine. Through the system, the researchers found that the use of electronic medical records can find patient similarities to produce personalized disease risk profiles for individuals.

Chawla said that informatics and advanced analytics, or data science, has the potential to improve patient care for Americans, while also creating opportunities for more personalized care.