The Big Opportunity for Big Data in Healthcare

Ph.D., Big Data Solutions, Healthcare and Life Sciences

Among healthcare executives interviewed for the 2010 IBM Global CEO study, 90% expect a high or very high level of complexity of data over the next five years, but more than 40% are unprepared to deal with it. The volume, velocity and variety of data are outpacing the ability for healthcare organizations to cost-effectively manage it:

  • Volume: Data is exploding due to merging organizations, genetic information being merged with clinical data, and more benchmarks for outcomes.
  • Velocity: The speed of healthcare data created from patient encounters and patient monitors is increasing, in and out of the clinic.
  • Variety: Over 80% of this data is locked up in unstructured formats, such as chart notes or monitoring instruments.

Where does an organization start to build a platform to effectively manage all this data?

Data-driven transformation

The transformation of healthcare will be data-driven. To achieve their goals and ensure the delivery of the best evidence-based, patient-centric, accountable care, organizations will need to develop an information strategy to effectively manage all their data, structured or unstructured, streaming or stored, and data that flows across the enterprise and from external sources.

A big data analytics platform

As part of this information strategy, a comprehensive big data analytics platform can help sort through this torrent of complexity and data growth, and will lay the foundation for ongoing healthcare transformation.

By capturing more data from different sources and effectively analyzing all the data:

  • Volume: Finance departments can reduce costs by identifying patients at risk for readmission and allocate funding toward care plan management by using clinical, operational and financial data in their analytics.
  • Velocity: Hospitals can predict an onslaught of illness in a community and can take pre-emptive measures by tracking and analyzing in real time streams of web and social media data.
  • Variety: Doctors and staff can work more proactively with chronically ill patients by detecting spikes in measurements or activity and engaging the patient proactively with updated prescriptions or recommendations in diet changes by analyzing device data and medical records.

Big data in action

Premier healthcare alliance uses IBM’s big data platform to aggregate and analyze one of the nation's largest compilation of inpatient data, containing over 8 billion records on over 150 million patients–each with 100s of attributes–and nearly 40% of all U.S. hospital discharges. This give the more than 2,500 member hospitals, and 80,000-plus other healthcare sites, access to clinical outcome measures, resource utilization, and transaction-level cost data to help hospitals see how they are performing in comparison to peers.

Keith Figlioli, senior vice president at, Premier, says with IBM’s big data platform he has “the ability to take data from anywhere in the health ecosystem, aggregate it, benchmark it, and actually impact performance in the healthcare system, and doing that in a near real-time way.”

Read more here how Premier’s use of big data has saved lives


Where do you go from here?

Do you have growing amounts of data or data that you aren’t tapping into? Are you looking for cost-effective ways to manage and analyze this data?

We will be back with more on big data in healthcare, sharing some stories of how organizations are learning how to manage and analyze their data, some interesting applications, and more detail on the tools.

In the meantime, feel free to read our solution brief on the IBM big data platform in healthcare.


About the Authors

Charlie Schick, PhD, is Director, Big Data Solutions, Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM, driving solution development, sales consulting, and go-to-market activities.

Penny Schlyer is Industry Marketing Manager, Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM, responsible for leading global messaging, content, and go-to-market activities for IBM's Big Data products.