Big data, healthcare and ethics—if I could just have more data…

If you think we are living in a world that runs on gasoline or natural resources, you’re wrong. We run on information. Companies today collect all kinds of information, for B2B purposes, and more importantly, for consumer-marketing purposes. Retailers know what we buy, what we like to eat, when we go out and where we go, real-time, as well as when we check in on Facebook or Foursquare. Now they want even more. In a Wall Street Journal Report on big data, experts took a look at what information companies lack, but would like to have.  And healthcare providers weighed in on what they want—a real-time rundown on their patients’ vital statistics to get an early warning about potential health problems.

A spin-off company from the Cleveland Clinic, Explorys creates software for health-care companies to store, access and make sense of their data. It stores clinical, financial and operational information but would like to access data about patients while at their homes, such as current blood-sugar and oxygen levels, weight, heart rate and respiratory health. On the one hand, access to this information could help providers predict things such as hospitalizations, missed appointments and readmissions and to proactively reach out to patients who may be going down a critical path, according to Sarah Mihalik, vice president of provider solutions, Explorys. Privacy, cost and standardization are described as current barriers.

Genomic data could provide even better insight to predicting patients’ risk for disease, according to Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics at Carolinas Healthcare System of Charlotte, NC. The company can currently predict readmission rates with 80% accuracy. It is working to predict chronic problems including asthma and diabetes using social and economic data—from violent crime rates to education attainment in patients’ neighborhoods—in collaboration with the Metropolitan Studies program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Carolinas Healthcare oncology teams already use genomic data, but it has yet to be used beyond cancer care because of cost, as well as the lack of ethical guidelines around using genomic data.