News Feature | May 21, 2014

How Big Is Healthcare's Big Data?

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Healthcare Big Data

The age of healthcare defined by data has officially begun. The industry is a bit behind others, but once things get to full speed (or even partial speed), it’s almost universally agreed upon that Big Data in healthcare will dwarf what we’ve seen so far in other areas.

And that’s not surprising.

The way people interact with the healthcare system — from the type and amount of data they give to the sheer importance of that information — has no equal. Pharmaceutical companies have been aggregating years of R&D data and both payers and providers are deep in the world of electronic records. The federal government has opened its vaults of industry knowledge, from data around clinical trials to information on patients covered under public insurance programs. Data is even being used at the community health level to predict and plan for population disease management.

The Numbers

So just how big is Big Data? It’s estimated by industry observers that data in healthcare was around 150 exabytes (if you were wondering, an exabyte is about one million terabytes) way back in 2011. Since then? It’s increased at a rate of about 2.4 exabytes per year. The folks over at McKinsey & Company believe that analysis of all those exabytes could translate to over $300B in value a year in the U.S. alone.

Where is it?

As mentioned before, this isn’t just information from patient records that’s been neatly packaged into EHRs. There are masses of information out there in unstructured forms — together, it makes up 80 percent of all medical data (IBM estimates that the body of medical knowledge doubles itself every five years). Other sources include…

  • Claims and explanation of benefits forms
  • Invoices and purchase orders
  • Scanned medical reports
  • Handwritten notes
  • Diagnostic images
  • Voice dictation
  • Machine-written and handwritten information on unstructured paper forms
  • Email messages and attachments

What Does This Mean For VARs?

Your clients no doubt will need help in addressing the coming growth in healthcare data. This can come in many forms.

Subscribe to Business Solutions magazineOn the structured data end, EHR management is one of the most commonplace areas of opportunity, especially with the (postponed) implementation of ICD-10 and coming upgrade to ICD-11 right on its heels. Beyond that is security. As data increases, organizations are looking for cheaper, and more efficient ways to manage their data. This though, with patient records going for $50 on the black market, can’t be done at the expense of security. Cloud computing is one of the most talked about solutions, and healthcare entities will definitely need help transitioning existing, and coming data and systems to these solutions.

Unstructured data presents its own set of challenges and potential, with hospitals and providers needing to not only structure their data, but to do so in ways that are compliant with ever changing regulations and security standards.