IBM Trumpets Major Effort in Healthcare Big Data at IOD

Healthcare data is a mess, and it is hurting our health. Huge amounts of records are still on paper, and while providers are computerizing them to meet requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, too many are taking the easy, cheap way out by simply creating PDFs or other formats that are not computer readable and therefore cannot be analyzed. Electronic health records, writes Wikibon Analyst Gary McFadden in his latest Wikibon Professional Alert,  contain huge amounts of important information to support clinical decision support systems, quality mesures, computerized physician order entry (CPOE) research efforts, and information that the pharmaceutical companies can use to support clinical trials.

IBM is bringing its A game to solving this complex, multi-leveled problem, and at its Information on Demand (IOD) conference at the end of October it and its partners paraded their technology and early successes.

Big Data offers many of the same benefits to healthcare that it does to other verticals, such as the financial industry, except that where in other industries it can be instrumental in creating better products and increasing efficiency, in healthcare it can have a major impact in improving our individual health. From improving diagnoses to matching the patient with the optimal treatment to anticipating problems in a patient’s situation that can lead to relapses, Big Data is a prescription for improving quality of care while increasing efficiencies and decreasing costs. But applying it requires that providers change their practices and embrace the value of accessible electronic records. Too many are either resisting the change or doing the bare minimum to comply with what McFadden describes as ridiculously low federal requirements that make the data inaccessible — basically just imaging paper records.

Another problem is the profusion of incompatible electronic patient record systems with nonstandard data formats, many of them decades old, that abound in the industry. Historically providers have been much more interested in buying the next piece of expensive medical equipment, even if they would seldom use it, than in modernizing their computer systems. McFadden writes that healthcare is basically following the same technology path as the financial industry but lags a decade behind.

IBM is tackling these problems with technologies that can do such things as read and convert PDFs, paper records, and other inaccessible EPRs into computer-readable formats and technologies that capture the structured and unstructured data in Big Data systems that can analyze them in close to real time. Leading edge providers like The Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, and the Mayo Clinic are using the IBM technologies to provide better treatment and outcomes for patients, providing the proofs-of-concept to convince increasing number of providers in the value of the investment in Big Data technology. The question is how long will it take for providers, many of whom are perennially cash-strapped, to find both the will and the finances to make that conversion.

McFadden concludes that Healthcare CIOs, chief medical officers, and business executives “need to have a strategic information management and data governance plan in place to take advantage of Big Data opportunities and not fall prey to tactical, reactive practices that sap resources and result in adoption of…vendor solutions that quickly lead to dead-ends….”

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