Big Data is simply a vast amount of data that experts can analyze to find trends, patterns and other insights. For medical practices of any size, this concept has a range of applications and benefits. Even small practices generate a massive amount of data, however; a handful of data can be supplemented by data gleaned from external sources.

In general, Big Data has improved the medical field by leaps and bounds. According to Forbes, Big Data has been used to predict epidemics, to cure diseases, to help avoid preventable deaths and to improve everyone’s quality of life. In healthcare, the main objective of Big Data is to learn as much about a patient as possible as early as possible. Valuable information about genetic predispositions, diet and exercise habits, pre-existing conditions and other factors can be used to catch signs of serious diseases before they become life-threatening. In healthcare, prevention and early detection are critical, and Big Data acts as a roadmap for potential healthcare risks.

On the prevention front, experts predict that doctors will soon use information from health-tracking apps to help diagnose and treat patients. These apps hold an inordinate amount of data that paints a picture of our daily health and exercise habits. How many steps we take each day, what we ate for breakfast, the amount of calories we consumed in a given day and what exercises we focused on in the gym are examples of information you can find in a health-tracking app. Someday, if doctors have access to this data, they can use it to make informed decisions about individual patients.

Better yet, one person’s data could be analyzed alongside data from thousands of others who are similar in age, weight, height and habits. This process will help uncover valuable insights and could potentially save lives. Additionally, the patient database of a small medical practice is likely filled with people who share a common geographic bond: in other words, patients who live in the same area. Analyzing Big Data from a small practice could help experts discover environmental factors that might be specifically impacting local patients.

For example, geographic information has been paired with Big Data in Africa to fight the Ebola virus. A major outbreak of the virus in early 2014 killed thousands of people in Western Africa and severely impacted the economies of several countries. Following the initial outbreak, experts began using mobile phone location data to help track and predict the spread of the Ebola virus throughout Africa. The efforts paid off by helping experts find new ways to contain the virus and to help people in need of treatment. For a small medical practice, geographic information could be vital for helping treat local epidemics.

Big Data has applications on the administrative side, as well. An Oregon-based OBGYN practice began analyzing Big Data after insurance companies and primary care providers asked for detailed information about risk prediction and disease monitoring. In the process, the practice found other valuable Big Data applications for its clinicians and its insurance providers, particularly with imaging scans of pregnant women. The imaging data revealed that most insurance providers require pregnant women to be screened at least twice, while clinicians encourage pregnant women to be screened three or more times. Choosing to harness the power of Big Data also helped this OBGYN practice build a data warehouse with dashboards that detail all kinds of relevant information.

Experts have also pointed out that telemedicine, or the practice of receiving medical care remotely, is growing in popularity. Examples of telemedicine include everything from diagnosing oneself through a website like WebMD to consulting face-to-face with a doctor through a practice-specific app. All of these data-packed interactions can have broader applications for patients as well as practices.

Even small medical practices have an unbelievable amount of data–everything from internal details, like who has an ACLS certification or where an employee attended school to individual patient information about a person’s medical history or health risk factors can be part of Big Data. Small medical practices can utilize Big Data to improve diagnostic methods, to provide accurate information to patients, insurance providers and other caregivers and ultimately, to improve everyone’s lives through medical advancements.


by: Vincent Stokes