November 13, 2013, 5:22 PM — Health care providers are just beginning to figure out how big data, mobile platforms and integrated software can deliver better care at lower costs, according to speakers at The Economist's Health Care Forum in Boston.
Talk of using large-scale data analysis to develop customized treatment plans is premature since most health care providers are still edging toward joining the big-data movement, said Charlie Schick, IBM's director of big data, healthcare and life sciences, during a panel discussion at the Tuesday event.
"The reality is hospitals are early on in analysis maturity," he said. "They're trying to answer questions required by the government. Big data is a buzzword."
To receive government reimbursements to defray the cost of electronic health records (EHR) implementations, hospitals must be able to show how they are using IT to improve patient care.
The Cleveland Clinic, a health care provider that records 5.1 million patient visits annually, has been aggregating patient, financial and payer data "for a while" and uses that information to deliver better care and reduce costs, said CIO Martin Harris. Physicians are learning how to use the data to determine what care to provide, which is also a metric used in their annual reviews, he said.
The organization is looking ahead to predictive analytics to manage costs. For instance, patient data shows that people cancel surgical procedures during snowstorms. Using this information, the hospital could expect cancelations during inclement weather and better manage operating rooms, which are one of a hospital's largest cost centers, Harris said.
To that point, just gathering data doesn't help medicine, said Iya Khalil, co-founder and executive vice president of GNS Healthcare, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, company that analyzes health care data to better match patients and treatments.
"To get value, you need to make sense of the data, not only to predict disease trajectory, but how to intervene to get care and make it cost effective," said Khalil, who added that her company developed an algorithm for health insurance company Aetna that helps identify people at risk for developing metabolic syndrome.
Gathering this data presents its own set of challenges. Managing chronic illnesses -- such as asthma -- which contribute to between 60 percent and 70 percent of health care costs, requires data from a patient's personal life, said Harris. Patients may be reluctant to capture data from their homes, especially if it requires using a cumbersome device.