Healthcare Technology Featured Article

November 18, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Big Data in the Healthcare Industry

Big data is growing in a number of industries, and healthcare is no exception. Companies are spending millions of dollars on the new technology that uses advanced algorithms to predict a person’s future healthcare needs based on their habits and previous visits with doctors and clinics. The program may sound powerful, but it doesn’t come without risks. While big data has many advantages, the disadvantages should also be considered before making the jump.


Higher-Quality Care

Because big data draws from a number of sources, including previous doctor and pharmacy visits, social media, and other outside sources, it can create a more complete picture of a patient. Using traditional charts filled by employees with medical transcription training online, doctors only had access to a limited amount of patient information, such as a few charts and some personal information. With the vast amount of data now available, healthcare providers can see what really makes a person tick and use that information to provide better quality care. If a patient loves to go skiing, as shown on her social media accounts, a doctor can connect with her over that or use that information to realize what could be causing a recurring leg problem. Similarly, a doctor may be able to see underlying causes for a health issue that wouldn’t be easily visible with just basic health information.

Early Intervention

The overall goal of big data in healthcare is to use predictive analysis to find and address medical issues before they turn into larger problems. Big data definitely makes the entire process more efficient. For example, a patient who is seeing a doctor about trying to lose weight could be prescribed medicine to address high cholesterol. If that patient posts on social media about changes in their life that cause stress, the big data algorithm could analyze that information and flag the patient as being at a risk for a heart attack. The doctor can then adjust the treatment to mitigate the risk for a heart attack, thus eliminating the problem before it becomes life threatening. Big data can also access DNA records to see if a patient is at risk for a disease passed through his or her family line.

Fraud Detection

A growing problem in the healthcare and insurance spaces is fraud, or patients submitting false claims in hopes of being paid. Big data is useful in fighting this because it can access a huge amount of data to find inconsistencies in submitted claims and flag potentially fraudulent claims for further review. Using its advanced algorithms, big data can sift through thousands of reports to find mistakes much more quickly than any team of humans could. Medicare has saved more than $1 billion in the last two years by using big data to check patient claims.



One of the strongest negatives relating to big data is the lack of privacy, especially when it comes to confidential medical records. To be effective and get the full, comprehensive look at a patient, big data must have access to everything, including private records and social media posts. According to many big data experts, the technology takes away individual privacy for the greater good. Although big data allows doctors to monitor a patient’s health from just about anywhere, it also doesn’t give the patient freedom.

Although there are existing laws relating to the privacy of medical records, some of those laws don’t apply to big data sharing. Many experts and healthcare providers believe an overhaul to the current privacy regulations is needed to protect patients while still providing analysts with enough data to create effective analysis.

Replacing Doctors

While some people see the ability to predict future medical issues as a positive, big data also poses the risk of replacing doctors. Big data simply isn’t at the point yet where it can be used on its own, and it definitely lacks the personal touch of a human doctor. Some experts fear that the growth of big data could potentially undermine doctors and leave patients turning to technology for answers instead of using a licensed doctor.

There’s no avoiding big data in healthcare, especially as more companies and providers expand their investments in the area. However, as the technology grows, the disadvantages need to be taken into account to create an experience that is efficient and safe for patients and doctors.

Edited by Alicia Young
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By Special Guest
Rick Delgado, Freelance Writer ,


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