Healthcare’s Resistance to Big Data

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Big-Data-HealthcareThe healthcare industry is renowned for its tardiness in entering the big data realm. Invested in archaic IT technology and maintaining a mindset that technological change must progress at a snail’s pace, means that healthcare may be one of the last industries to benefit from what big data can deliver even though it is possibly the industry with the most to gain.

A good case-in-point this resistance came out in a recent OP-ED article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2013 issue – Clinical Change: Big Data equals bad doctoring. The article was written by Michael P. Jones, a Virginia based gastronenterologist. He paints a picture of what he feels doctoring should be – a solo experience with the patient in an examining room with the doctor writing notes by hand. He complains about the advent of the electronic medical record (EMR), which he claims gets in the way of practicing medicine. He describes inefficient EMR collecting software and processes. He equates his having to fill out EMRs to the chores of a “scribe or grocery store clerk.”

Dr. Jones seems to think the extra work involved with filling out EMRs is solely for the purposes of insurance and billing – “Whatever the EMR may become, right now it’s mostly a receipt for a transaction, a bill of sale.” What he fails to understand is that a growing body of healthcare related data sets can improve the quality of life for patients by using machine learning techniques for prediction, classification as well as unsupervised methods like clustering to discover previously unknown information. Handwritten notes, while sufficient for a single physician, is a dated process that severely limits how the healthcare industry can benefit from what a global store of healthcare data can bring. Dr. Jones expresses retro view of his profession with:

It used to be that a physician’s note contained dubious penmanship but concise, insightful information that guided the evaluation and treatment of the patient. Now notes are pages long, often containing verbiage simply cut and pasted from previous notes so as to speed the awful process or maybe to fulfill the requirements for ‘billing at a higher level.’ I may have to dig through scads of detailed ‘data’ that justify payment but don’t necessarily result in better care. This system clearly needs some work. Or a boycott.

I agree that the system needs change to make it more palatable for physicians, but I think doctors need to engage in a change in perspective for all the positive difference big data can institute for meaningful health advantages. I certainly hope a EMR boycott does not take hold. In all likelihood, Dr. Jones is a fine doctor, the kind I’d personally like to have, but the high value he places on quality patient care can only be enhanced with big data as a backdrop.








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