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Conference Spotlight: How Big Data and Data Analytics are Revolutionizing Health Care Delivery

Written by: Julie E. Korostoff and Christine M. Wahr

At the O’Reilly Strata Rx Data Makes a Difference Conference in Boston last week, top minds from the data technology, life science and healthcare industries discussed how big data, a term commonly used to describe very large and complex datasets that are difficult to process using traditional data processing applications (“Big Data”), and data analytics are revolutionizing the healthcare industry.  Throughout the three day Conference, experts discussed how Big Data currently is and will be used to improve patient care and outcomes, affect cost savings, increase efficiencies, and spur development of new products.  Central themes throughout the Conference included: (i) the three “Vs” of Big Data: velocity, volume, and variety, (ii) the necessity to use data analytics to transform information into actionable insights, and (iii) the challenges of patient privacy. 

Highlights of the Conference include:

  • United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak presented on how HHS is driving data innovation in the public and private sector through its liberation of over one hundred databases of information on, as well as empowering patients by providing a platform for the secure transmission of personal health data through Blue Button+.
  • Claudia Williams, Director of the State Health Information Exchange Program in HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, revealed that more than 80% of eligible hospitals have adopted Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems through participation in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.
  • Presenters from prominent health care, life sciences and technology organizations, including representatives from Humedica/OptumHealth, Aetna, Mayo Clinic, General Catalyst Partners, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Emdeon, Pfizer, and SAP, contemplated the role of Big Data in changing the health care cost curve and how data analytics has the potential to drive creation of a healthcare delivery model that best, and most efficiently, serves the greater population.
  • Technology experts explained the various software, platforms, data warehouses, and industry collaborations, such as SAP HANA, IBM jStart, Aetna Innovation Labs, Optum Labs, the MIT Media Lab, and more that are changing the manner and speed with which clinical, administrative, and patient-generated data is collected, stored, accessed, analyzed and delivered across the industry, the impact of cloud computing systems and virtual machines, and how real-time analytics, automated searches, and predictive models will revolutionize how both structured and unstructured data from a myriad of sources can be used to impact cost and quality of care.
  • There was extensive discussion of Big Data and data privacy, with presenters proposing ways to best leverage impactful data while protecting individual privacy in compliance with the HIPAA Final Omnibus Rule, both within a single healthcare system as well as across health information exchanges.

The position of Big Data in healthcare is one of promise.  The challenge facing the industry is how to harness the flow of information from multiple sources which, as one presenter aptly stated, has “surpassed the bounds of human cognitive capacity.”  Data analytics, performed across systems and organizations, has the ability to create models that will yield methods to reduce the cost of care and facilitate better patient outcomes.  The ultimate impact of Big Data turns on the industry’s ability to break down barriers between health information systems and to implement technology that can process data in real-time, all while protecting individual privacy.

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Theresa C. Carnegie is a Mintz attorney who advises health care clients on a wide array of transactional, regulatory, compliance, fraud and abuse matters, and health law issues. She counsels health plans, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies, device manufacturers, and distributors.