Rock Report: Big Data & Healthcare

By Dr. Bonnie Feldman

I have always been a curious person with wide interests: dentistry, economics, finance, Wall Street, business development, visual display of information, etc. Last summer, I set out to explore a new arena at the intersection of technology, entertainment, psychology and healthcare: mobile social games for health. I fell in love with the passion and commitment of the people building this sector and was thrilled to present my findings at the Games for Health Conference. While chasing mobile games, I became curious about the data analytic platforms underneath. So, following Halle and Leslie’s suggestion to me last year, “follow your curiosity,” off I went to explore Big Data – feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

What struck me first was the new vocabulary. It all seemed dry and lifeless, so gamification was in order. Thanks to Tobi, my dexterous data-driven summer intern, and Ellen, my long-term wordsmith and creative co-conspirator, we created “Words with Friends”- blog posts with pictures to learn a new lingo.

Ready to step out into Big Data’s Emerald City, I nervously attended the Strategic Research & Innovation Institute conference. To my pleasant surprise, I had the lingo and issues down (not bad for one month!). With new confidence, I became even more curious and a bit skeptical about this Big Data thing.

At first, it was hard persuading people to be interviewed, but to my surprise, I quickly became a resource, with company executives asking me about competitors and where to find additional data sets. Soon, there were discussions of collaboration, data sharing, data philanthropy and data pooling. The word was out and everyone wanted to participate – even big companies like IBM, Dell and Microsoft.

In the course of more than thirty interviews, we found an emerging ecosystem of companies interested in using Big Data to improve healthcare in six ways:

  • Support Research: Genomics and Beyond
  • Transform Data to Information
  • Support Self-Care
  • Support Care Providers
  • Increase Awareness
  • Pool Data to Expand the Ecosystem

Among this sample of companies, three data usage trends emerged:

  • Working with limited data sets
  • Combining a greater variety of data
  • Pooling data for better results

Some, such as Health Fidelity, DNAnexus and Predixion Software, are using limited data streams. Others, including NextBio, Explorys, OneHealth, and Practice Fusion, are using multiple streams. Still others, like Qualcomm Life and Factual, are building open ecosystems to pool big data sets. All were eager to learn more about each other, seeking access to additional data to facilitate deeper analysis and insights.

In the spirit of the open data movement, and as a thank you to those who encouraged me to “follow my curiosity,” please enjoy a visual executive summary –link- or a more detailed analysis- link- of my summer adventure down the yellow brick road of healthcare Big Data.

Big Data in Healthcare Hype and Hope