Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Growing Mountain of Data

Big Data Is Transforming Healthcare

 

Google Cloud Farm

The adoption of electronic medical records and health information exchanges will fuel and fill the warehouses of computer servers and storage devices.  The monolithic windowless vaults appear in unlikely places where land is and electricity is cheap.  These server farms can be energy hogs, using as much as a medium size city.  Dell, Apple and many others have modified their business plan to build, buy and own server farms for their own cloud offerings and to lease capacity to other internet providers.  In order to have optimal utilization and energy efficiency they are located in cooler climates where natural ventilation can cool the servers with less air conditioning. Several have been built near sustainable energy sources such as hydro power from rivers, or wind turbines. Google is already using innovative ‘power packs’ located adjacent to their facilities.

How does this relate to health IT?  Many users in small to medium size practices do not have adequate on site technical support and chose to select a ‘cloud’ EMR. It offers regular maintenance off-site and updates are done seamlessly.

What does Big Data even mean, you ask?

To some, it’s more information than your laptop can handle. Others define it as melding data from different sources and seeing what patterns emerge. Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer  described Big Data,  as “watching the planet develop a nervous system.”

With all this data residing at a centralized storage area, it allow for a ‘meta’ study of information that can be mined for purposes of analysis. The challenge for understanding patterns and linkages can be difficult using standard charts.  If you have ever seen information printed out from different sources  you know how meaningless a standard grid chart can be.

Enter the world of modern displays of data in the form of graphical representations on maps, linked to geolocation services such as Google earth

As tracking becomes even more mainstream, the issue of privacy will pop up. While Smolan doesn’t think big data equals Big Brother, others may disagree.

“The conversation on privacy will need to change dramatically in the near future. It will not be long before you will be able to take a picture of someone with your phone camera and have software that can impute regions of that person’s genomic DNA, which could tell you about their risk for disease,” Dudley wrote in an email.

There’s also the question of who owns the data, the patient, healthcare providers, or the app developers that tell you want it means.

As the popularity of Instagram indicates, often, the answer is pictures. So through the Human Face of Big Data, Smolan aims to morph abstract data points into something visceral, emotional and tangible.

This was the topic of several presentations at the recent Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

Wired Health speaker Stephen Wolfram, for example, has been collecting personal data for more than two decades, but not until recently did he “finally try taking a look — and to use [himself] as an experimental subject for studying what one might call “personal analytics,” he wrote on his blog. But Wolfram, who earned his PhD in theoretical physics at 20, is a whiz. The rest of us might need some help.

The federal government has acknowledged this predicament and recently set aside more than $200 million to fund big data initiatives. Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded about $15 million to fund eight big data research project.  The awards will “ultimately help accelerate research to improve health — by developing methods for extracting important, biomedically relevant information from large amounts of complex data,” said NIH Director Francis Collins in a press release.

As tracking becomes even more mainstream, the issue of privacy will pop up. While Smolan doesn’t think big data equals Big Brother, others may disagree.

“The conversation on privacy will need to change dramatically in the near future. It will not be long before you will be able to take a picture of someone with your phone camera and have software that can impute regions of that person’s genomic DNA, which could tell you about their risk for disease,” Dudley wrote in an email.

There’s also the question of who owns the data, the patient, healthcare providers, or the app developers that tell you want it means.

 

All that smart device health app that tracks blood pressure, weight loss, blood sugar and other metrics can be melded with other information about a patient linking disease, treatment, compliance and other metrics to study efficacy and outcomes for treatments.

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