MN Perspective: Big Data & Healthcare

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A recent article on the Star Tribune by Joe Carlson brought the conversation about healthcare and big data analytics close to home. Several Minnesota-connected companies led discussions on working across the industry to utilize data from insurance, hospital, pharma and medical device sources to drive better patient outcomes and manage rising costs.  Working with big data analytics tools has been key to making this possible.

The first example comes from Medtronic and UnitedHealth. Many might think medical device and insurance companies might not always have the same goals in mind but not true.  The two companies partnered together to discover the value of the features of a Medtronic insulin pump vs. other pumps on the market.  Mr. Carlson reports they discovered that there was a decrease in hospitalizations due to complications from diabetes when the Medtronic pump was used, thus decreasing overall insurance costs.  This led to a change of thinking.  Dr. Richard Migliori, chief medical officer of UnitedHealth explains in the article, “It caused us to stop looking at line-item cost figures and start looking at, what is the total value? Because we saw a total value, we then began to wonder; shouldn’t we be (paying) on the basis of total value?” In 2016, UnitedHealth announced that Metronic would be its preferred insulin pump provider.

In Mr. Carlson’s article, he also gains insight from Mayo CEO John Noseworthy.  Mr. Noseworthy adds that the industry has changed in the last five years and the atmosphere is one of “partnership, trust and transparency” in order to work together to bring down rising costs and improve patient outcomes.

Finally, St Jude Medical is working on a solution to reduce chronic pain by using a medical device versus pain medications. According to Mr. Carlson’s article prescription opioid painkillers are not only addicting but they lead to 15,000 deaths per year.  Using big data analytics, St. Jude is looking to make the case for using its device which has a larger upfront cost but may reduce overall costs long term.

The power of big data analytics and a great spirit of partnership has helped make these connections possible.

What’s Next for Big Data in Healthcare

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“Big Data will leave no sector untouched as it continues to change the way we think about everything from sales to human resources, and medicine and healthcare are no different,” writes Bernard Marr for Forbes.

Handling data is nothing new to the healthcare industry.  But, in recent years, increased abilities to share and access data plus new data from sensors and wearables has created not only more data but better data according to Mr. Marr.  In his article he outlines several ways big data will make an impact:

Prevention.  Mr. Marr writes, “smartphones and other popular smart devices including Jawbone, Fitbit and others, now have the capacity to help people track their progress towards a healthier lifestyle. Apps and devices to help track and monitor physical fitness but also chronic ailments like diabetes, Parkinson’s and heart disease are also being developed.”  Not only do these devices track more data but this data can be more reliable than traditional patient led tracking and reporting methods.

Diagnosis. Improvements are being made to how big data is stored and shared in the healthcare industry with the goal of  bringing medical providers more access. Systems, such as IBM’s Watson, are also looking at test results, recognizing patterns and learning in order to aid in diagnostics and improve early detection.

Treatment.  To get to more personalized medicine and better patient  treatments you first have to start big, as in big data.  The results of big data analytics, predictive modeling and new systems crunching vast amounts of information will help to better inform doctors about the needs of each patient.

Big data is definitely a “game changer” for the healthcare industry both now and in the future.

2015 Review – Big Data in Healthcare

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Jennifer Bresnick put together an interesting take on how big data is taking shape in the healthcare industry for Health IT Analytics.  She writes, “Even in a decade filled with milestone events for the healthcare industry, 2015 must certainly stand out as one of the most eventful years for the big data analytics world. From the raging controversy over the timing of Stage 3 meaningful use, the less-dire-than-expected ICD-10 conversion, and the increasing pressure on vendors to make EHR interoperability a priority to the advent of the Internet of Things and a system-wide push to put population health management into action, the past twelve months have been packed with progress, change, and even a few disappointing setbacks.”

Let’s check out what leading trends developed this past year:

Internet of things (IoT). Using devices to track healthcare data allows for more personalization of patient care.  Ms. Bresnick writes, “IoT devices have the potential to improve patient safety, make chronic disease management simpler, and provide healthcare organizations with the detailed data they need to engage in effective population health management programs. While the associated influx of data may seem like trouble to overwhelmed clinicians still struggling to wrestle their EHRs into submission, IoT developers are putting plenty of effort into designing interfaces that ease the burden of sifting through reams of data from sleep trackers, diet apps, heart monitors, and smartwatches.”

Precision medicine.  Ms. Bresnick comments that precision medicine is moving from theory to everyday practice. Several initiatives are coming together currently to not only build data sources but also to put findings into the hands of practitioners.

Big data-driven care.  As the healthcare industry is pushed to be more effective, while continuing to provide quality innovative patient care, big data use could be the key to success. Ms. Bresnick explains, “big data has the potential to help healthcare organizations balance their competing initiatives and equip providers with the tools they need to leverage their EHRs for better care rather than feel overwhelmed by them.  The trick is to understand how big data can be valuable, how it intersects with mandated reporting requirements, and why it’s so important to improve the way the healthcare system measures its progress and evaluates its weaknesses.”

In the healthcare industry yourself? Share your thoughts on key big data transformations in 2015.

Automated Analytics in Healthcare

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Today let’s take a look at a healthcare analytics use case from IBM involving automated reporting and optimized analytics operations for athenahealth.

Paula Williams from IBM’s Big Data Hub explains the challenge companies face with healthcare analytics. “New government rules and regulations—such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Medicare and Medicaid, The Affordable Care Act, and so on—continually affect healthcare organizations. The ability to respond to these legislative mandates requires much agility. For organizations such as athenahealth, having an information technology infrastructure that is flexible enough to accommodate growth while allowing it to address healthcare industry market changes is a must.”

Athenahealth provides cloud based services to doctors, providers and large hospitals across the country.  As they grew their healthcare analytics solution started to fall short and analysts were finding themselves spending more time gathering the data rather than analyzing it. Business leaders also found themselves with little opportunity to get at the data themselves creating a bottle neck within the analytics team.  Sound familiar? This is a common occurrence at any-sized business but given the volume of healthcare data and sources, finding a solution to automate can be a game changer to how you serve your customers.

Athenahealth came to IBM looking for a solution that allowed them to provide the same level of healthcare analytics and back-end support to each of their customers, no matter the size. Not only did they want to save time but they also wanted to empower business leaders by providing self-service options. Since implementation they have gained efficiency and improved access for business leaders. Some processes have gone from days to minutes and analysts are seeing a real gain in the time they now have to analyze the data to better serve their customers.

What pain points is your company facing as its data and sources of data continue to grow?

Integrated Big Data Solutions for Healthcare

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We have all seen the headlines around what big data can do for the healthcare industry and patient care. Today let’s take a step back and look at what a successful architecture might look like with every day healthcare data sources in mind.

Krish Krishnan breaks down data sources for IBM’s Big Data & Analytics Hub. He writes, “Big data is information that is both traditionally available (doctors’ notes, clinical trials, insurance claims data, drug information), plus new data generated from social media, forums and hosted sites (for example, WebMD) along with machine data.”  He breaks down these data sources among Volume, Velocity and Variety or the three Vs of Big Data.

  • Volume: data sizes are varied and range from “megabytes to multiple terabytes”
  • Velocity: “the data production by machines, doctors’ notes, nurses’ notes and clinical trials are all produced at different speeds and are highly unpredictable”
  • Variety:  data produced in different formats but not necessarily with the same standards

The key is to harness the data in an integrated solution that reduces complexity and latency as well as allows for scale, collaboration and agile analytics. Of course, the solution should also be “useful,” Mr. Krishnan explains, “getting the right information to the right resource at the right time.”

Mr. Krishnan also underlines the benefits of using metadata, “Using metadata-based integration of data and creating different types of solutions—including evidence-based statistics, clinical trial versus clinical diagnosis types of insights, patient dashboards for disease state management based on machine output and so on—lets us generate information that is rich, auditable and reliable. This information can be used to provide better care, reduce errors and create more confidence in sharing data with physicians in a social media outlet, thus providing more insights and opportunities.”

Getting started with big data may seem daunting at first, but a trusted, experienced business partner can guide you down the path so your organization (and patients!) can soon start to realize the benefits of big data.

What can Watson do for your business?

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We all remember Watson as a past Jeopardy contest many years ago. Fast-forward to the present and Watson has moved well beyond its game-show debut and is impacting industries all around us. The Verge writes, “Watson partnerships galore! In the last four months, the supercomputer has taken part in everything from fantasy football and natural gas operations, to diabetes prediction for people who shop at CVS pharmacies.”  Watson is built to mirror the same learning process that humans have—through the power of cognition. What drives this process is a common cognitive framework that humans use to inform their decisions:  observe, interpret, evaluate, and decide.

Headlines and stories in recent months include:

“How IBM Watson will impact our fight against cancer” The Washington Post reports  Watson is helping move the medical industry to “personalized medicine for cancer patients everywhere based on their unique genomic profile.”

“We’ve been giving Watson eyes,” The New York Times Bits blog reports as Watson recently made a key move to add image analysis and recognition into its healthcare capacities.

And it’s not just healthcare, “IBM Watson to Help Cities Run Smarter” reports eweek.  It is also playing a role in advancing robotics and don’t forget Chef Watson.  Also relevant to many of us this time of year, “Coach Watson” (Wired) could become a key member of your fantasy football team.

Want to learn more about what IBM Watson can do for your business? Join us September 17thfor our seminar Brews with IBM Watson: The Future of Technology.  Evolving Solutions leaders and IBM will be discussing Watson at Day Block Brewing Company in Minneapolis with a special focus on the healthcare industry. Register today.

Brews with Watson

Industry News Round-up: Healthcare Technology

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To keep you on top of the latest and greatest healthcare technology news, we’ve rounded-up a list of current topics.

Healthcare Research in the Cloud

Mark Samuels of ZDNet writes, “using the power of the cloud to improve organisational efficiencies is one thing, but the potential benefits that can come from adopting on-demand IT in medical research are truly life-changing, creating the potential for great advancements in patient care and long-term life prospects.”  He cites three examples; first Virginia Tech teams who had produced data tools to help fight cancer and other diseases have now produced software that reduces the cost of a human genome sequence from $1,000, today, to possibly pennies by 2020.  Ford has also teamed up with the healthcare technology community to help monitor health and wellness indicators such as blood pressure and activity levels, using cloud solutions to process the data.  And, finally the American Cancer Society used cloud solutions to improve operations and expects to save $1.5 million every year from these efforts.

Watson Health Cloud

Lance Ulanoff reports for Mashable about IBM Watson’s entrance into the healthcare technology world via Watson Health Cloud.  He reports, “The goal is a recalibration of healthcare costs through always-available access to information about personal health and how it compares to health details about millions of anonymized others.” You may have seen it in the news that IBM and Apple are also partnering up to be able to couple Apple’s personalized health tracking with other data sources that can all be processed via the Watson Cloud. Mr. Ulanoff reports the majority of the data collected will be anonymized to analyze trends but they do intend to also have personalized data available for use by doctors and hospitals to improve specific patient care. It is amazing to see how what once was a Jeopardy contestant has now turned into a powerful game-changing resource.

How Can Big Data Personalize Medicine?

Jacqueline Prause points to three ways big data can make medicine more personalized in a recent Forbes article.  First big data has allowed for breakthroughs in “population health” which breaks down risk factors based on lifestyle, economic or medical history for a defined and specific group of people, helping to define preventative treatments and practices.  Second, big data has made it possible to push for physician “point-of-care” systems that help modernize healthcare systems as well as make it easier for physicians to access data for better real-time decision making. Finally, big data is playing a huge role in precision medicine by providing a structure of data to analyze to create custom treatment options.

Industry News Round-up: Three Flavors of Cloud

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To keep you on top of the latest and greatest cloud technology news, we’ve rounded-up a list of current topics. First, check out what cloud can do for HR, then a new development with IBM’s Watson and, finally, new thinking around cloud services from Forrester.


Human Resources Can Benefit From Cloud

Susan Galer writes for Forbes, “cloud is already living up to its promise at many companies, empowering HR to be more strategic and employees to be more productive. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone fully understands its benefits, or isn’t concerned about the risks inherent to change.”  In her article she points to three key cloud benefits for HR that can help you guide the discussion in your organization:

  • Cloud software taps into the best user experiences and these can translate well even outside of HR for business use
  • The cloud provides faster access to innovation
  • The cloud allows HR systems to stay more current by making upgrades easier and faster

Most HR leaders have heard it before, but there can be a certain amount of “dread” when it comes to handling a specific HR system. Take those concerns and investigate how cloud technology could help.

Watson Continues to Expand in Healthcare

IBM recently launched its new Watson Health business unit reports Fred O’Conner for Network World.  This new unit will focus on serving the healthcare community with the right tools to make health and patient data more useable and actionable. The business unit plans to utilize its cloud systems to access and analyze patient data.  Healthcare data can come from many sources, such as patient records, medical devices, wearables and clinical trials just to name a few. The new Watson Health unit hopes to combine these data streams to help physician decision making.

Are There 3 Flavors of Cloud?

When we evaluate cloud technology should we forget about SaaS, IaaS and PaaS?  Brandon Butler reports for Network World that new research from Forrester, in fact, does ask organizations to rethink the categorization of services. Forrester analysts find, “IaaS vendors are increasingly catering to application development; PaaS vendors let users control more infrastructure; and SaaS vendors allow customers to build new apps on their software.” They see cloud vendors “blurring” the lines in order to create the best public cloud platforms that meet their clients’ needs. Share how you talk about the cloud.

Current Trends in Healthcare Tech

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Today let’s look at what healthcare technology trends are in the news.

First, the healthcare industry and healthcare technology will continue to grow rapidly. Reporter Lyndsey Gilpin reports for TechRepublic, “Last year was huge for healthcare. Not only are more people insured than ever before in the US because of the Affordable Care Act, but innovations in healthcare and medicine are also increasing at an exponential rate. The industry grew more in 2014 than it ever has before, and that trend will continue into 2015 as there are more innovations in wearables, digital health clinics, telemedicine, and disease research and prevention.”

Meg Whitman of HP also recently shared on LinkedIn her list of the top ten healthcare technology trends:

  • Mobile devices will continue to empower both doctors and patients
  • Big data will uncover patterns, problems and opportunities in healthcare
  • Cloud computing will continue to make healthcare data more accessible to analyze and therefore innovate
  • Security must and will be taken very seriously
  • Computing power and energy efficiency will be center stage
  • 3D printing use will continue to grow
  • Telemedicine will continue to expand
  • Technology advancements will continue to impact developing countries
  • Technology will help us better understand the brain
  • Bold ideas will unlock new healthcare opportunities

As mentioned above, self-service and monitoring are on the list of  healthcare technology trends. Bob Moritz of Fortune underlines this trend, “Digital technology is a crucial focus, now and for the future. For example, consumers want more do-it-yourself health options, and entrepreneurs are obliging. Rapid innovation is everywhere, from the growth of the wearables market to mobile apps to FDA-approved digital medical devices. Indeed, in the first 10 months of 2014 alone, the FDA cleared 24 of these devices.”

Finally, an increase in digital technology and data will focus attention on securing patient information and healthcare systems. Expect healthcare privacy and security to be top-of-mind and in the news this year.

Big Data and Healthcare

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Big data is not just a fad technology. It is being used in real industries every day to solve problems and improve processes. Information Week recently reported on examples of big data use in healthcare. Let’s take a look:

  • In Pittsburgh, a university’s health plan now uses 6.3 terabytes of data to forecast patient behavior to help provide better preventative care and to better utilize hospital resources.
  • In Jersey City, New Jersey, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have been able to improve response rates to less than six minutes (average nationwide is eight minutes, 59 seconds). Their big data systems have allowed them to analyze calls with time of day and geography to better position EMS teams and vehicles.
  • A clinic based in Virginia has worked together with IBM to examine electronic medical records to help identify patients who are at risk for heart disease.  Using both structured and unstructured data, the pilot program was able to achieve 85% accuracy in detecting the medical problem.

What uses of big data are you seeing in your own healthcare and community-wide?