24 Mar 2020

Big Data and Healthcare in 2020

Telstra Ventures

Investments, Networking, New Technology or Careers?

What is Big Data? 

Big data, as a general term, refers to large, fast, and complex data sets. Its massive size, velocity and exponential growth pose a challenge to traditional software processing. While big data seems like a new term — a buzzword — it has been around since the early 2000s. 

Industry analyst Doug Laney first explained big data using the three Vs: volume, velocity, and variety. 

  • Volume pertains to the amount of data that needs to be stored. It’s important to keep in mind that data in itself is raw and needs to be interpreted to gain information and insight. 
  • Velocity translates to the rate at which data is acquired. The high volume of data often comes in speedy and unprecedented and requires timely action as such. 
  • Variety refers to the different formats in which big data comes in. This could be in the form of documents, videos, audios — structured or unstructured. 

Altogether, the three Vs of big data demonstrate just how lucrative a space it is. When this data is captured and leveraged, it becomes a business’ responsibility to turn that data into valuable innovation. With great power, comes great responsibility. This is where the real value of big data lies — when it makes an impact on their customers’ lives. 


What is Big Data’s Role in Healthcare? 

Big data’s role in healthcare is to capture various streams of medical attributes and dimensions to improve overall patient experience. This can be done by personalising treatment options, lowering their out-of-pocket costs, or detecting illnesses early on. 

The cost of healthcare has been on a steady increase due to five key factors: population growth, population aging, disease prevalence, medical service utilisation, and service price (e.g., rising health insurance premiums). By 2027, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the United States will have spent a projected amount of $6.0 trillion on healthcare.

Chronic diseases continue to be on the rise, demanding more from healthcare systems. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that chronic disease prevalence is expected to increase by 57% this year. This percentage isn’t inclusive of global pandemics such as SARS, Ebola, MERS, H1N1, and more recently, COVID-19. 

These all bring in streams of big data that must be distilled into useful information — whether that’s relaying information, making healthcare more accessible, crafting a new health device, or improving health informatics overall. 


Trends to watch out for this 2020

1. Artificial Intelligence & Health Informatics 

Deep learning is now utilised in the early diagnosis of patients. Systems have learned to take a patient’s history and information to cut the time it takes to diagnose them. 
By processing large amounts of patient data, the system arrives at the likely causes of the symptoms manifested. 

Through deep learning, oncologists can profile cancerous tissue samples at a faster pace, which significantly reduces treatment times and improves patient outcomes. 

The value of AI in informatics also extends to administrative tasks such as billing and booking systems. Several companies have already gone out to automate these tasks which are often time-consuming and overlooked. HealthEngine, a Telstra Ventures portfolio company, offers an integrated online booking and SMS reminder system for appointments. 


Image: HealthEngine’s SMS reminder system


2. Wearable Devices

The demand for wearable devices keeps growing as the shift to personal health tracking rockets. The wearable device market transcends smartwatches and fitness bands — it also encompasses wearable ECG monitors, wearable blood pressure monitors, and biosensors. 

These devices bring in an even bigger variety of data into the stream — ready for researchers to collect and uncover for not just health analysis but personalised insurance offering.


3. Drug Development

The rise of big data provides a plethora of insights for pharmaceutical research and development. The drug discovery and development journey could take up to 15 years to get FDA-approved from the time it gets discovered. Data analytics has enabled pharma companies to use predictive modelling — pharmokinetic modeling — to mathematically compute and simulate how compounds will interact with the body. 

The flux of patient’s data from other streaming sources such as social media has led to new ways in which pharmaceutical companies fish for eligible clinical trial patients. They can filter by genetic information, disease status, and individual characteristics. This allows them to look in the right areas for patients, shortening timelines and reducing trial costs. 


4. Regional Data Tracking & Crisis Communications

In the pursuit of universal healthcare and public health, some businesses have collected and grouped patient data to create a regional tracker that informs the general public 

of significant outbreaks. This tool proves useful in tracking the spread of a virus in real-time, preventing the spread of disease from one area to another. 

WebMD hosts a cold and flu activity map on their site. This aims to track where the common cold and flu are most prevalent at any given period — helping local authorities and private companies disseminate information and send out health reminders wherever relevant. 

As of this writing, CoVid-19 (commonly known as Coronavirus) has become a pandemic, slowing down thousands of business operations across the globe. Telstra Ventures portfolio company and cloud communications platform Whispir released a complimentary communication template pack to facilitate companies in reaching out to their audiences, employees, and other stakeholders. These templates emphasize the importance of timely and contextual communication in a time of disruption to business operations.

IMPORTANT: Data-wrangling software company Trifacta is now calling upon any agency working on leveraging data to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of need, Trifacta sales engineers are donating time to any person or agency working on COVID-19 data to utilise their technology in streamlining the rigorous process of going through large data sets. Their previous work with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on the 2015 HIV outbreak in rural Indiana saw great success and allowed them to improve the ability of subject matter experts to access raw data and convert it into readable formats. 


Big Data, Big Discovery 

The promise of big data lies within the number of big discoveries left to unfurl. Companies like HealthEngine, Trifacta, and Whispir have factored in contemporary, timely, and progressive methods in unearthing data the world has yet to understand. It’s heartening to see technology and innovation not just being used for the benefit of an enterprise but put to work to help alleviate or solve what’s important to people — their health.  

As the trends head towards patient-centric and high-value care approaches, the future of big data seems promising in delivering value to patients. This is what the world requires of the healthcare industry today, and to this call shall they answer.