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Business leaders, investors gauge healthcare big data's prospects

A panel of healthcare stakeholders examines big data's real-world potential for improving quality, reducing costs. The consensus: not quite there yet.

BOSTON -- Big data presents the healthcare industry with a lot of potential for improving the quality of care, engaging patients and improving operations and clinical research.

But as it's still a young technology, organizations still haven't been able to develop a business process around healthcare big data, and delivering on that potential is still years away.

Charlie BakerCharlie Baker, left, makes a
point at the StrataRx

So said a group of healthcare investors and business executives at a panel at this week's Strata Rx conference in Boston.

The panel was perhaps most notable for featuring Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker. A lifelong healthcare executive, Baker's worn several hats, including CEO of Harvard Vanguard to the state's Health and Human Services director to, most recently, an investor in healthcare companies for General Catalyst Partners.

To Baker, big data has the ability to solve what ails the healthcare industry and help drive change from the old ways of doing things to what needs to be done to make things more efficient.

"For the most part, we have a healthcare delivery system that is transactional, fragmented and driven by procedures," he said. "One of the big challenges facing the healthcare industry -- and it's a whopper -- is, How do you take a model that is built on the notion of acute care delivery and transactions and rethink it and reorganize it to live in a world where the biggest opportunity to do something around cost and quality is to be nimble and quick and proactive in managing your most complex populations?"

Big data can be an enormous tool, but this is going to be difficult.
Charlie BakerMassachusetts gubernatorial hopeful

Chris Kryder, founder of D2Hawkeye and now chairman of Valence Health, and also a medical doctor, said big data "is real, a lot of people care, and it's very early in the game."

The problem, he said, is the classic case of deriving value from data. "There's too much data; there's not enough knowledge," he said. "We need a lot of analytics, and we need a lot of really good analytics, and despite all of the vendors who are doing really good work, I don't think we are close."

Kryder said the big data needs of healthcare are not like those already paying dividends in industries such as retail, where customer preferences can be mined for expanding top-line revenues. In healthcare, he said, "you have to make decisions that require more certainty than correlation."

The third panelist, Michael Weintraub, founder and CEO of cloud clinical analytics vendor Humedica, says the issues revolve around the four Vs of big data: volume, variety and velocity, with the most important one being value; he also discussed the shared responsibility between patients and physicians in the brave new accountable care world.

"For value to truly occur, insights alone are not enough," he said. "You need to get information to the physician while they are seeing the patients; you need to get information to the patient at a specific moment of time when they can be involved behaviorally to do something.

"'Accountable patients,' especially given their share of wallet as it relates to their role, as they use information, have got to play a bigger role. And the physician, as we move from fee-for-service to value, has to use start using this information to harness cost-efficient and effective care."

So as with its fits and starts with HITECH coupled with the realities of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the healthcare industry is finding that big data is yet another area where the business of healthcare is way behind the technologies that can enable it to become all that it can be.

Baker had the last word and likens big data technology, at least as it relates to healthcare, to the early Internet. It would change the world. Just not yet. "You can't afford not to be in [the big data] space and investigate and figure out how it can change your business model. There will be a lot of lumpiness along the way.

"Big data can be an enormous tool, but this is going to be difficult."

Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @Scotpe on Twitter.

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