Making Big Data Work for Your Practice

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Jeff MAzeBig data, as a term, means different things to different industries and professionals, but loosely defined, it refers to the explosion of information flowing into and out of businesses—including medical practices—over the past few years. Of the world’s data, 90% were created in the past two years alone; IBM estimates that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day. One universally agreed-upon characteristic of big data is its lack of manageability. The capacity of humans to understand data is not growing at a rate commensurate with data’s increasing complexity, meaning that visualization is more critical than ever before to lending meaning to the terabytes of payor, billing, demographic, quality, and other data flowing in and out of radiology practices (we discussed the topic of visualization in more depth in the inaugural issue of MedPracticeBiz). Practice leaders might fear that the proliferation of data associated with their businesses interferes with the instinct (or art) that drove their business decisions in the years before the veil was lifted on all of this information. To the contrary, in our experience, practices are able to make stronger decisions when they merge the science of big data with the art of intuition. One example would be the role that effective visualization of big data plays in daily workflow for practice managers. Rather than spending half the day tracking down data points and plugging them into unwieldy spreadsheets, with a business-intelligence system in place, they can begin their days with the information that they need—and spend their time making decisions, rather than preparing themselves to make them. Visualization of big data also saves leaders time by highlighting exceptions to normal processes. As a rule of thumb, 80% of a practice’s processes are probably working as expected at any given time; for the remaining 20%, identifying and addressing them are what make a difference, in terms of improving efficiency, performance, and profitability. Big data’s proliferation is, by definition, too complex to handle on its own. When proper aggregation and visualization lend instant meaning to tens of millions of rows of data, however, practice leaders will be in possession of much more than pretty charts and graphs: They will have the tools that they need to make more empowered decisions than ever before. Jeff Maze is senior manager of business intelligence for Zotec Partners.