Photo: Francis Bacon, Biography.com, 2013
There have been a lot of articles lately about how big data is going to revolutionize business, particularly the healthcare industry. Hospitals are going to be able to record, access and analyze exponentially more data than they could in the past, but instead of easing fears of data paralysis, analytics vendors seem set on creating angst. Bad strategy, for two reasons.
First of all, “the sky is falling” won’t help them sell, because few businesses enjoy being revolutionized. Major changes in the way an industry conducts business are usually not comfortable or pleasant – ask Best Buy how it feels about mobile retail, or ask how Tower Records feels about digital music distribution. The last thing a business owner wants is a market shift that’s going to radically and rapidly change their comfortable way of doing things.
Second, the storyline demonstrates a lack of understanding of data. For most industries, including healthcare, big data is not a revolution – it’s an evolution, allowing businesses to do what they already do better and faster. Doctors and hospitals have been using data and empirical observation to improve patient outcomes since the scientific method was established 400 hundred years ago. Big data doesn’t fundamentally change that premise; it just provides doctor and researchers with (exponentially) more information to work with.
Imagine that the philosopher Francis Bacon, one of the figureheads of the scientific revolution, could travel to a modern hospital and have access to all the benefits big data provides. Though the tools would be radically different, Bacon would essentially be following the same process as he laid out in his 1620 work, Novus Organum Scientiarum: gathering data, isolating variables and testing hypotheses. The changes big data is making for healthcare are differences in degree, not in kind.
It’s important to tell the story of big data in a positive way – rather than focusing on how it’s going to shake up and revolutionize businesses, vendors should emphasize how big data gives users access to a quantity and quality of information that past scientists could only imagine. Access to and study of this data makes it easier for doctors, insurers and hospital administrators to create better strategies and improve their operations.
Think about what WellPoint is looking to do in the healthcare space with IBM’s Watson supercomputer. By using the Jeopardy! winning machine’s incredible analysis capabilities to compile, analyze and make accessible unprecedented amounts of medical data, Wellpoint hopes that Watson will help doctors and insurers make more informed decisions, from choosing treatment options to accurately assessing risk.
This is what big data really is: another tool that gives healthcare professionals access to information that they can use to improve patient outcomes, lower costs and reduce waste. The introduction of the scientific method was a revolution that changed the central processes of healthcare; big data analytics are just the next evolutionary step. This difference may seem purely semantic, but as Lena Boroditsky of Stanford University’s Department of Psychology argued in this paper, these seemingly minor narrative changes can have a big difference on how a product is perceived.
Big data analytics are a remarkable and important new discipline that allows healthcare providers and insurers to access, manage and evaluate more information, leading to better informed research and improved patient outcomes. They’re the next step in more than 400 years of scientific thought; Mr. Bacon would be impressed.
Zach Pearson is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson
Photo: Drugsdb.com, 2012
Ask the average smart phone user and he can probably show you a whole slew of apps he uses, providing a range of different services, from keeping track of his schedule to streaming custom radio stations to paying for a meal with the scan of a barcode. But what about using your phone to monitor or diagnose your health? According to Research2Guidance, a mobile industry market research firm, approximately 247 million mobile phone users worldwide downloaded a health-related app in 2012.
Health apps are on the rise, providing users with software to log exercise, count calories and even assess moles to decide whether they warrant a visit to the dermatologist. Some apps target doctors, allowing them to view X-rays on the go or communicate digitally with their patients. The US FDA noted that there were 17,288 health and fitness apps on the market in mid-2012, along with 14,558 medical apps. However, these mobile apps are the subject of debate as policy makers sort out how to ensure these health resources are credible and safe for consumers to use.
Currently, as is often the case in the tech world, health app technology has outpaced regulation. Heath-related mobile apps represent the intersection of consumer technology, communication, and medicine, making it unclear as to who the responsible regulatory body should be. Both Apple’s App Store and Google Play require that app developers meet some standards, but their guidelines do not currently pertain to content quality or validity. The FDA regulates medical devices, and provides oversight to certain health apps that in effect converts a phone into a medical device. “There are apps today that change a mobile platform into an EKG machine. When it’s being used to diagnose patients, it’s a medical device we believe is subject to FDA oversight,” explained Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in an NPR interview. But that still leaves the oversight of thousands of less technical apps up in the air.
At the moment, federal legislators are working to move a bill through Congress that would help clear up this regulatory ambiguity. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) has introduced The Healthcare Innovation and Marketplace Technologies Act, which proposes creating an Office of Mobile Health within the FDA. Establishing this new department would ensure that health apps actually provide users with credible and safe information.
We are inevitably going to see a shift towards mobile healthcare and a greater use of health-related consumer technology. Local health care system Partners HealthCare has already established an entire Center for Connected Health to focus on efficiently and safely developing and implementing mobile health solutions. The recent focus on how to best regulate this new technology is a step in the right direction. The safety and security it will provide will enhance consumer confidence and ultimately accelerate the technology’s adoption.
Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella
Photo: Minute Clinic, Rockford Register Star 2011
The severe flu season currently underway has been all over the news and, as a result, the topic has been peppered throughout our office chatter for the past couple of weeks. After an especially sniffle, sneeze, and cough-filled “T” (subway) ride to work one morning last week, I hopped onto CVS’s website and, after about 45 seconds, had an appointment to get my flu shot the following night. Later in the week, I heard from a few colleagues who, after hearing how easily I signed up, had also gotten their vaccines at a CVS MinuteClinic. This sparked thought on retail clinics and the role they’ll play in the future of healthcare.
Retail clinics, like those in popular drugstore chains and superstores like Target and Walmart, have rapidly grown in popularity in recent years. According to HealthDay News, the first retail clinic opened in the U.S. in 2000, and there are now more than 1,350 such clinics operating around the country. An American Medical Association news report says CVS opened 68 clinics from December 1, 2011 to December 1, 2012. With 620 locations, MinuteClinic accounts for approximately 44 percent of American retail clinics. Clinicians at MinuteClinics have seen an astounding 14 million patients since 2000.
While retail health centers are not the answer to all health issues—obviously people with more serious symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, etc. should call their doctor or head straight to the emergency room— consumers should consider them as an option more often. Until now, most retail clinics have addressed routine needs like flu shots, prescriptions, and blood pressure checks, but many clinics can also meet a variety of other health needs such as sports physicals, strep throat cultures, and diabetes testing. Clinics are typically staffed by qualified nurse practitioners, and, in Massachusetts, they are regulated by the Department of Public Health to ensure the safety of all patients.
As a result of healthcare reform, more people now have access to insurance and will be seeking medical attention. Outsourcing minor procedures and tests to retail clinics could ensure that a greater number of people will receive the care they need and at a lower cost. Affordable clinics in convenient locations with convenient hours, short wait times (and sometimes no need for an appointment at all) staffed with qualified personnel, seems like a win-win situation to me.
Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter:@lucymuscarella