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Big data in healthcare: Lots of data but not enough analysis?

This series explores how big data in healthcare is affecting analytics. In this introduction, HIMSS 2013 attendees highlight what's top of mind.

This is the introduction to a series exploring big data in healthcare. Each piece will break down an aspect of analytics and where it fits into healthcare needs. This first piece provides an overview of the issues to be discussed.

In March I attended the HIMSS 2013 event in New Orleans. We heard good keynote speakers; political figures Karl Rove and James Carville especially fired up discussion in a dark arena on current affairs, including healthcare reforms. The most dominant buzz at the event was analytics, with about 1,000 exhibitors on the floor, and just about all were riding the analytics bandwagon. The clinical- and business intelligence-related discussions topped the list of offered educational sessions, followed by tracks such as health information exchange, leadership/governance and meaningful use, all of which talked about analytics in one shape or form.

Top Tweet subjects

Figure 1. Copyright (C)2013 Information Frameworks. All rights reserved.

To understand what was on the conference attendee's minds, I took the liberty of analyzing the Twitter chatter during the HIMSS days, and again, I found analytics subjects topping the tweets as shown in Figure 1. But much to my surprise, there was very low chatter on governance and interoperability, even though governance and interoperability were among the top three session tracks.

Tweet sentiments

Figure 2. Copyright (C)2013 Information Frameworks. All rights reserved.

To dig deeper on audience sentiments on such topics, I found very few negative sentiments on analytics, but observed a large number of negative sentiments on governance and interoperability, as shown in the Figure 2. One reason is, both governance and interoperability force organizations/people to change, which is hard to do, so people resist.

Are we talking about analytics or simple arithmetic: Synthesizing the analytics bandwagon at HIMSS 2013

At HIMSS, analyzing Twitter activity revealed which topics were covered through sessions and workshops, and what sentiments vendors and audience members had regarding those topics.

Analytics topped that discussion. But, do we really mean analytics or do we mean arithmetic? I would say arithmetic. Here is why.

Under the umbrella of analytics, most vendors and presenters talked about CMS measurements as part of meaningful use and value-based purchasing dashboards. These measures are not analytics -- that's why they are called measures; they translate to simple arithmetic calculations based on rules defined by CMS for the measure numerator and denominator.

The reason why I call such analytics applications arithmetic is because 90% of the effort involves data acquisition from electronic health records (EHRs) and harmonization of the data before applying the measure rules for numerator and denominator -- and none of these processes are analytical in nature; none of such measures use any statistical techniques or other cognitive assessment other than very simple calculation, i.e., arithmetic.

Upcoming pieces in this big data series:

Wake-up call: Healthcare industry has lots of information and not much data

Here I will go against the universal fact that the healthcare industry has lots of data but little information. Here I will also spell domains of the healthcare industry and how respective content attributes differ.

Informatics or analytics: How big data fits in the healthcare enterprise

An architectural look at big data characteristics and how/where big data elements fit in managing healthcare content.

Analytics design strategies for healthcare provider organizations

Here I will shed some light on who/how/where clinical decisions are made, which determines where/how/what/when we should design informatics or analytics and methods to deliver insight to the right end user.

Analytics design strategies for healthcare payer organizations

Here, I will discuss how the role of payers is changing from payments alone to wellness programs, which will change their risk analytics and business model from pure claim payments to population health segment.

Challenges in implementing big data analytics for the healthcare provider

Here I will highlight key barriers to adoption of big data for providers.

This will include organizational culture, IT skills, patient concerns, compliance, etc. I will also cover issues related to unstructured data analytics.

Continue to the next piece in this series

About the author:
Naeem Hashmi is chief research officer for Information Frameworks, as well as an expert in healthcare data analytics, information management and data exchange. He is an active member of HIMSS, CHIME and AMIA. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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