What Is Big Data in Healthcare?

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A nurse reviews an electronic health record on a handheld tablet computer.Technological progress is changing the landscape of almost every industry, including health care. One of the biggest impacts comes from big data: a concept defined by massive amounts of information produced by an expanding field of resources. When properly harnessed, this information can yield a wealth of insights that can be used to streamline business operations, improve medical research and increase the quality and efficiency of care.

It’s not enough merely to know that big data exists. Health care professionals need to understand its application to tools like electronic health records (EHRs) and systems like the Internet of Things (IoT). This understanding can empower data-savvy nurses to build care delivery strategies with targeted purpose, resulting in a better form of care today and tomorrow.

As big data becomes a more prominent force in health care, nurses equipped with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and foundational knowledge of concepts such as data analysis and data collection in nursing will be valuable to employers and patients.

How to Use Big Data in Health Care

The answer to the question “What is big data in health care?” involves understanding what big data can do for the industry, particularly since it can do quite a lot. It can not only impact direct patient care but improve care delivery and ultimately patient outcomes in the long term, from facility operation to medical research.

When data is gathered, analyzed, and interpreted correctly, big data can provide health care professionals with an optimized snapshot of a patient’s health history, current health needs, and potential concerns. Nursing professionals who can harness this data can use it to build a holistic care strategy for a patient, one that takes care of a patient’s needs with greater effectiveness.

Using big data in health care can also empower patients to take a more active approach to their own care. Data tracking technology such as wearable tech that provides real-time data on vital signs can help patients be more mindful of how their day-to-day decisions can affect their health. This knowledge can have positive long-term ramifications, including reducing hospital visits, which could save patients money and minimize the need for a facility to use up valuable resources.

Looking at the big picture, big data can also be used to identify other issues that can hinder care delivery, including the identification of care disparities and other roadblocks to health equity. When discrepancies are detected, nurse leaders and other health care professionals can work together to find solutions, which could potentially lead to improved population health.

Big Data Examples in Health Care

The primary reason that big data is such an important topic right now is that the business world finally figured out that it could learn valuable information by analyzing all the data it’s been collecting and storing for years. The health care industry is no exception. In fact, the health care industry stands to benefit more than most from data analytics technology.

The prime mover of this revolution is the EHR. Recent data from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology revealed that 97% of children’s hospitals, 96% of general acute care facilities, and 92% of acute long-term care use EHRs.

As of 2021, The EHR market size sat at $27.2 billion in 2021, with analysts predicting steady market growth for the rest of the decade, according to a report by Grand View Research. A key component of what makes EHRs such an important tool in big data is the IoT, a field valued at $478.36 billion in 2022, according to research by Fortune Business Insights.

While these big data health care examples suggest a robust presence in the health care field, it’s vital to understand what they are and why they’re deemed so valuable, not only in the context of nursing informatics but also in care delivery.

Of the many roles in the health care industry, those who’ve recently obtained, or who are in the process of obtaining, their DNP degree are in a position to harness the awesome potential of the big data revolution.

What Are EHRs?

Traditionally, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and medical clinics of all sorts kept records in room-size filing cabinets full of hanging folders. In fact, such filing arrangements are still pretty common. However, many of the larger health organizations that understand what EHRs are have adopted them to make records more accessible, harder to lose, and easier to share.

EHRs can also store more information with more detail than was previously possible. All the EHR-derived data being generated, stored, cross-referenced, and analyzed has yielded insightful results. These results can make it possible for a patient to receive consistent care at multiple facilities and can lead to more reliable care, regardless of the health situation in question.

EHR data can also be used to make informed decisions on the direction of a patient’s health in the future. Machine learning algorithms (a type of artificial intelligence, or AI) can be programmed to consider many more details in electronic patient records than any one physician could possibly be expected to review. While a human doctor might miss the subtle early warning signs of many diseases, a computer algorithm will see everything there is to see.

What Is the Internet of Things?

The IoT is constantly adding new, useful, data-generating devices to the health care industry’s repertoire. Wearable devices are already in use for diabetes patients to track blood sugar levels and even to deliver insulin; activity trackers for cancer patients are being used in conjunction with smartphones to track patient recovery, and even vital sign monitors in health care facilities are being redesigned to aggregate, store and analyze data to flag warning signs in a quicker, more efficient manner.

Knowing what the Internet of Things can do yields many benefits. IoT integration can allow patients to be better at taking their medications and adhering to prescription instructions. It can also improve the patient experience, as the IoT can help them feel more engaged in the care delivery process. Additionally, the IoT’s use of computer algorithms reduces errors, and its automation capabilities can streamline processes, boosting efficiency. These elements can make it easier for a health care facility to achieve its ultimate goal of delivering care that may improve patient outcomes.

The Future of Big Data in Health Care

As more data is moved onto remote servers and AI steadily improves, the health care industry is beginning to understand that medical data will soon be moved into the big data space. While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and privacy concerns are slowing the process, cybersecurity innovation is progressing alongside big data and will be fully capable of protecting sensitive medical data.

In the future, big data health care development and improvements in data analytics will continue to benefit the health care industry in even more areas. The proliferation of new data sources, the adoption of new technologies like AI and the increased focus on predictive analytics will provide information that’s even more insightful and precise than what’s available to health care providers now. This can allow nurse leaders to develop strategies that are more effective and efficient.

Get Ready to Lead the Future of Health Care

Duquesne University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program trains graduates to be ready and able to affect the way health care is practiced. Coursework in epidemiology and biostatistics, ethical leadership, transcultural care, and global health perspectives and translating evidence into practice can enable students to become effective managers of nursing personnel, from hospital emergency rooms to traveling disaster medical teams. Contact Duquesne University today to learn more about its online DNP degree.

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Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Electronic Health Records

CPrime Studios, Benefits of IoT Healthcare

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