What to do with all of that healthcare data?

The amount of individual healthcare data that is generated on a daily basis is astounding. While doctors have always used information to better inform health decisions, what's changed is our ability to better measure, aggregate and make sense of previously hard-to-obtain behavioral, psychosocial and biological data.

We've surpassed the initial hurdle of generating this information and are now facing the next challenge of accurately processing and analyzing it. The good news is that in today's age of information, doctors are well poised to improve care at an individual level and researchers have the opportunity to more thoroughly explore and understand health trends on a global level.

The Growing Mountain of Health Data

One of the most well-known and impactful research projects on health is the "The China Health and Nutrition Survey, 1989 – 2011," which gave one of the first glimpses into the relationship between heart disease and nutrition and had a profound impact on how we think about health. Officially kicking off in 1991, the survey ran for 20 years and involved a grueling manual process of aggregating and cross-referencing the enormous amount of data that was collected.

Today, wearable devices and apps generate more than double the data that was processed during that survey in a matter of minutes. We now have more than 100,000 mobile health apps that measure a range of indicators, offering a constant read on patient health. Consultancy Arthur D. Little forecasts the global market for digital health products and services will more than double to $233 billion by 2020.

While patients have historically been reluctant to share health data for privacy and security concerns, they are now proactively sharing data as they recognize the benefits of data-driven healthcare and become confident in data security. As a result personal health tracking devices have become a crucial resource for improving global and personal health.

What Can We Accomplish?

Analytics tools can create a unified view of a patient's health that can lead to more personalized, and thus, more effective treatments and lowered overall costs. For example, your primary doctor could have immediate insight into not only your medical records from your cardiologist and emergency room doctor, but also from your health tracking apps that measure your weekly exercise, heart rate spikes and daily blood pressure. With access to this data, they could determine the best course of treatment possible.

But it doesn't stop there. This advent of data can also help advance healthcare research and prevent disease at a global scale.

The German Cancer Research Center (DFKZ) in Heidelberg is already leveraging big data analytics to advance the study of cancer cell genomes. With the Fujitsu's Integrated System Primeflex for Hadoop and Datameer technology, researchers are able to quickly analyze multiple petabytes of data to better understand and prevent cancer. Prior to adopting this technology they had to wait months to see the results of their analysis. Now, they can process the data quickly to detect relevant information and accelerate the analysis of tumor genomes.

Likewise, Apple's recent ResearchKit, a service for medical researchers to develop iPhone-based studies, and CareKit, a framework to build apps that manage well being, has produced medical insights at an unmatched pace. Already, apps are being used to study everything from diabetes and breast cancer to asthma and heart disease, all while keeping individual data private and secure.

With big data solutions that connect every single data source and analyze structured, unstructured and real-time data, organizations can glean valuable insights to improve health. Limited access to patient data previously slowed the progression of personalized care. However, with the rise of personal data apps and major industry moves like Apple's the healthcare industry is moving in the right direction.

Now that we've solved the problem of how to track all of this data, we need to take on the challenge of processing it and analyzing it to find the best possible health solutions for both individuals and larger health research.

About Stefan Groschupf
Stefan Groschupf is co-founder and CEO of Datameer, a provider of big-data analytics. A big-data veteran and serial entrepreneur with roots in the open-source community, Groschupf was one of the early contributors to Nutch, the open-source project that spun off Hadoop

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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