Healthcare trends: Big data analytics and digital health drive the industry's future

CEO, Damo Consulting Inc.

By far the biggest event in healthcare over the past 10 years was the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. However, just as important was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which authorized the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology. According to, the CMS also set aside $20 billion in incentives for hospitals and doctors that implemented electronic health record (EHR) systems. This sparked several healthcare trends in effect today.

In the rush to implement systems, demonstrate meaningful use and earn federal dollars, technology vendors and the medical community alike focused less on the user experience. As a result, AMA Wire reports that healthcare professionals experienced several challenges such as increased workloads, sometimes to the detriment of patient care.

However, some positive trends did emerge from ACA mandates and the CMS programs. In one, healthcare providers began using analytics to detect disease progressions early, prevent fraud and abuse and improve population health management. But interoperability between various proprietary systems remains low, and their data is still siloed. Despite this, several successful analytics programs are in place today. Many work in high-value use cases such as hospital readmissions.

Consumerization, big data and the rise of nontraditional players

The biggest healthcare trend today is the marketplace's rapid consumerization and the growth of venture-capital funded digital health startups, according to Rock Health. These are giving traditional health plans and systems a run for their money by disrupting the market. One thing that differentiates these startups from other businesses is their focus on leveraging analytics, which allows them to offer value-added services. The Washington Post reports that hospitals are now analyzing data from services such as Yelp, Healthgrades and ZocDoc to understand patient sentiment and boost ratings.

Players like Yelp are also directly entering this space by integrating CMS data into their consumer ratings, says HIT Consultant. This addresses one of healthcare patients' unmet needs: the reasoning behind a hospital's rating. Over time, Yelp hopes to provide valuable insights to those making critical medical treatment decisions.

How can healthcare enterprises prepare for the future? are three things health enterprises can do to align with emerging healthcare trends:

  1. Invest more in technology. The healthcare industry has traditionally underinvested in technology, and it was late in adopting advanced analytics. With a data explosion under way, enterprises must upgrade their IT environments, explore cloud-based models for scalability and flexibility and integrate big data analytics into operations workflows. These actions will demonstrate a true commitment to analytics.
  2. Learn how to conduct business with a consumer focus. Examples from retail and consumer banking can be quickly repurposed for healthcare contexts. For example, the Internet of Things phenomenon is enabling retailers to optimize their consumer targeting and campaign expenditures. By using data from wearables, healthcare enterprises can better understand patients' health and improve their diagnosis and treatment decisions, especially during medical emergencies.
  3. Seek and embrace strategic partnerships. Nontraditional players and new business models can significantly enhance healthcare enterprises' consumer value proposition and improve the quality of care. Examples include the partnerships that pharmaceutical companies are forming with Silicon Valley companies. In one of these deals, Forbes reports, drug maker Genentech is using databases from 23andMe's DNA test kit customers. Some of these buyers have donated their genetic and health data for research. This is significant; it demonstrates that unlikely partners can leverage big data analytics for the good of healthcare.

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