Why Big Data is the booster shot the healthcare industry needs

By Sundar Ram

The healthcare industry generates zettabytes of data every day in terms of patient care records, prescriptions, lab tests, pharmacy sales, electronic patient records, insurance claims data, machine-generated sensor data from monitoring vital signs etc. Big Data solutions can help the industry acquire organise & analyse this data to optimise resource allocation, plug inefficiencies, reduce cost of treatment, improve access to healthcare & advance medicinal research.

Sundar Ram, VP, Technology Sales Consulting, Asia Pacific, Oracle

Sundar Ram, VP, Technology Sales Consulting, Asia Pacific, Oracle


It can help the government with disease control. For e.g. Dengue is a recurring disease in many parts of India. The health department can acquire historical outbreak data, collect Sensor data from Ministry of Environment and Meteorology department, collect social media data with relevant keywords like flooding, fever, dengue, mosquito etc. They can organize and analyze these data sets to determine seasonality, check for correlation between weather pattern and occurrence of disease and be prepared to prevent the spread / better manage an outbreak.

In developed countries the technology is enabling healthcare providers closely monitor home devices such as glucometers, weight scales, pedometers and others to understand how the patient is faring day to day. For example, if a patient is suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes or congestive heart failure, the ability to monitor him for weight gain, blood sugar levels and exercise attempts will allow the care team to proactively contact the patient and provide help or recommend his report to an emergency room for immediate treatment if need be. The facility to extend the healthcare into the home of a person allows for a much better quality of life for the patient as well as reduces operational cost for hospitals.

With the cost of DNA sequencing becoming common and affordable in many parts of the world, the emergence of personalized medicine is becoming a reality. There are many drug therapies that have been found to be effective for a certain group of patients with specific gene expressions. Big data technologies can be used to integrate a patient’s genetic data and environmental data with his or her electronic medical record to determine the effectiveness of personalized treatments. Another important use case for the technology is in translational research. While clinical data is complex and heterogeneous big data inferencing and clinical applications is paving the way to understand and find possible cure for diseases like Cancer.

Digitisation of India’s healthcare data: Step towards a healthier country

Earlier this year the government of India announced that all government records including public healthcare data will be digitised under the e-gov initiative. Once implemented, the standards will enable seamless sharing of information, interoperability and use of data across systems. Statest that have started storing demographic data of the population can link the same to say the Health Management Information Systems of government hospitals. The private sector service providers have also movedaway from a paper based system to Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems. These digitisation initiatives will generate treasure trove of Big data from various sources including point of care medical records, handwritten and nurse's notes, hospital discharge records, medical tests in the form of films/images etc.

So far much of this data was locked in a system designed to treat patients on an episodic fashion, and may not have contained the full spectrum of patient's health record. But with the maturing of solutions based on Big Data architectures, the ability to unlock and analyse this information is now possible.

Social media, IoT supplementing the treatment

Devising a better way to do things from social network interactions is gaining ground across industries including the healthcare sector. With 4.6 billion mobile phones worldwide—600 million of those being smart phones—people will Google, Facebook, and tweet their thoughts and activities whenever, wherever. In India a good number of hospitals are beginning to use Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or some other form of social platform to reach their stakeholders. While currently the use of these platforms is mostly for marketing, steps are being taken towards social media becoming an integral part of the next-generation patient portals and ‘smart’ personal health records. For example if a daughter wants to be able to participate in her elderly father’s care from across the country. She wants to hear how he is doing, see his latest lab results, and communicate with other relatives, care-givers, and doctors, all in the context of a secure “Facebook” page. Hospitals and other providers are starting to provide such advanced solutions especially in the U.S.

Meanwhile the burgeoning ‘Internet of Things’ supported by the growth in mobile penetration is paving the way for new systems of healthcare delivery. Healthcare providers are beginning to use remote patient monitoring (as described earlier) to deliver high-quality, in-home care at a fraction of the cost. Hospitals like the Apollo group have set up telemedicine centres to take quality treatment to remote villages in India. Mobile healthcare or mHealth is also gaining traction as the solution to improve healthcare cost-efficiency. According to industry reports mHealth market will account for nearly $9 Billion in 2014 . It will represent up to $250 Billion in annual healthcare cost savings worldwide.

India, like many developing nations struggles to provide good, cost effective healthcare to its citizens. Emerging technologies like Big data, Mobility and M2M can help address this challenge by plugging inefficiencies to improves access to timely and good quality healthcare.

The author is Vice President, Technology Sales Consulting, Oracle Asia Pacific


Published Date: Mar 18, 2015 02:22 pm | Updated Date: Mar 18, 2015 02:22 pm