The term “big data” has been thrown around a lot recently, and it was appropriately a hot topic at the recent Health Care of the Future summit hosted by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The expert panel on hand used the opportunity to talk about the many opportunities that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides for the use of big data in health care. Through the ACA, the federal government is pushing the industry to capture patient data and use it in a way that will improve care and cut costs. The discussion panel included Gary Kaplan, M.D., from Virginia Mason Hospital, Steve Shihadeh from Caradigm, Don Antonucci from Regence, Dave Uhler from Slalom Consulting and Craig Wright, M.D., from Providence Hospital.

Below are the key topics covered at the summit:

Improve Care and Cut Costs

With the goal of improving care and cutting costs, the panelists agreed that a lot of learning needs to take place to get from where we are today to the point where the data is making these advances. The first step is improving data collecting systems. From there, health care providers need to determine the best ways to navigate and interpret all of this data. The pressure is on to drive change, which means it can’t sit on a server collecting dust.

Transparency to All

Accurate big data analysis demands transparency from all health care providers. This is big. The panelists seemed excited by the possibilities this allowed. Full transparency of data amongst all health care providers throughout the country provides a larger and more accurate pool of data to work from. It also creates standards for how the data is captured and shared between systems. The panelists believe these standards will result in more meaningful results for everyone.  

Driving Data to Patients

The panelists also spoke to the role data will have on improving the care that doctors are able to provide their patients. The data will serve as a welcome addition in their toolkit. Doctors will be able to rely on their expertise as well as the data when treating patients. The panelists were confident that nationally communicated data will help in improving validity and trust between doctors and patients by ultimately reducing disparities in care.

Using Data in Ways that Make Sense

The potential of big data is exciting, but panelists caution against getting too far into the weeds and losing sight of the goal. As Dave Uhler from Slalom Consulting pointed out, it’s important to not only use data for measurement, but use it in a way that makes sense. Uhler drew a parallel to using an ultrasound machine to measure a patient’s body weight.

“Is it possible? Yes. But it makes more sense to use the scale in the corner of the room,”  said Uhler.

The challenge remains to not only measure data to stretch the technology capability and show what’s possible, but also focus on the end result and how it can improve the overall health delivery system.

The overwhelming vibe of this panel was in favor of the massive changes that big data will drive in health care in the coming years. The discussions are definitely just beginning.  

Disclosure: Slalom Consulting is a Weber Shandwick client.

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