Big Data to Guide Physicians in Helping Patients Before They Get Sick

July 4, 2014

From apps to analyzing big data, the future of healthcare may be about predicting the future of a patient's well-being and having physicians intervene.

Since the release of Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Prescription," healthcare providers and entrepreneurs alike have been trying to develop a "disruptive" solution to the delivery of healthcare. For example, the latest trend is providing a means to effectively monitor any given patient 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to allow physicians to proactively treat patients before their conditions get worse or develop at all.

How is this accomplished? A variety of inventions, coupled with big data, are allowing the impossible to become possible. Many new products, like Fitbit or Jawbone, have already made it onto our wrists, allowing for the monitoring of sleep patterns, exercise habits, calorie consumption, etc. Hoping to capitalize on this trend, Apple recently announced its new app, Health, meant to collect biometric information which can then be sent to providers for analysis and proactive treatment. Samsung is also weighing in on the phenomenon with their new app, S Health. The jury is still out on whether or not these products will deliver on their promise to positively change the healthcare system, or just become glorified pedometers.

There are, however, some companies that are really pushing the envelope. Once such company, Theranos, is attempting to develop a revolutionary lab technology that can analyze blood in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the amount of blood currently used to analyze a sample. Once in place, this technology will allow providers to monitor levels tested in the blood far more frequently than they currently can, which will allow for a more complete picture of a patient's health throughout time.

Big data companies and their brokers have also entered on to the scene, accumulating data on patient's habits, demographics, and income. The data can potentially identify patients' health risks based on their habits, socioeconomic status, etc. For example a patient of low socioeconomic status may not have a car, so they would not be able to schedule routine checkups. Once at-risk individuals are identified, healthcare professionals can reach out to them to encourage treatment before a condition develops or worsens.

Consciously or not, the healthcare community has determined that the best way to treat is to pre-treat, and near constant surveillance is necessary for this kind of approach. Of course, most people don't want a phone call from their local doctor asking them to come in for treatment because they're drinking too much soda. Privacy and soured doctor-patient relationships will likely slow down this new approach, with the many blurred lines that will need to be re-drawn.

Whether the general public likes it or not, this approach is here to stay. Huge commercial companies are banking on it, and physician pay is transitioning from fee-for-service to quality measures. With these two giant engines behind it, this "Minority Report" style of healthcare will be coming to a hospital near you.