Healthcare Technology Featured Article

September 04, 2019

The Role of Big Data and Mobile Apps in Healthcare

Healthcare is perhaps the only field after banking and education that produces and analyzes the most data, yet the least integrated with big data analytics. This is both a blessing and a curse. While keeping medical data off shared networks helps maintain its integrity and secures it from attack, it prevents us from gleaning into the cues that could possibly save more lives and lead to better treatment outcomes.

Why? Because AI and computer analytics tools are better at sorting through millions and millions of data than humans will ever be. Imagine what flying a plane would be like without the aid of the onboard computer to analyze all the data from the many sensors. Can the pilot fly the plane without the computer? Yes, but with great difficulty and risk.

Data is the new money

Data is what makes the world go round now. Sweeping new laws are being enacted worldwide to protect data as if it were real currency. In fact, the laws that protect data are stricter than those that regulate money itself. Look at the GDPR for example, and recently, the controversial Article 13 Copyright Directive.

Many sectors of the economy use medical records to make transactional decisions. Banks, insurance companies, employers, and even the government. Social media companies have become economic giants because of data. Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Youtube, Google, and many more would not be what they are today were it not for the data they’ve harvested from their users.

Imagine the possibilities for the healthcare industry if all medical data was integrated into some big data analytics system. The growth of the healthcare industry is not the main point here. It’s a consequence of what is the real value - precise patient situational awareness, better research and greatly improved quality of care.

What healthcare is missing out on for not using Big Data

Unlike social media and banking, healthcare data can and does save lives. And rather than using just algorithm, a machine learning developer would pair healthcare analytics services with artificial intelligence; opening the door to many new and powerful capabilities.

In a report released in July of 2018, Stanford University computer scientists said they had used artificial intelligence to predict the side effects of millions of drug combinations. This came at a time when the CDC reported that between 2011 and 2014, 35% of people in the US were using a combination of three or more prescription medications.

Here’s what Marinka Zitnik, a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at Stanford had to say in the Stanford report, “The problem is that with so many drugs currently on the U.S. pharmaceutical market. It’s practically impossible to test a new drug in combination with all other drugs, because just for one drug that would be five thousand new experiments. With some new drug combinations, truly we don’t know what will happen.”

Why is Big Data adoption so slow in health care?

Yes, data can save lives. Yes, it can improve service delivery. And yes, it can lead to fewer hospital visits and lower healthcare costs for families. But it’s not that easy to digitize medical data.

The correct way to do it is to digitally encode the data right from the get-go. But there are still thousands of health service providers who rely on paper for creating medical records. A whole industry exists that converts this data into digital format, creating additional operational expenses for health care service providers. While they can keep working with paper to deliver services to patients, to make billing claims, the information has to be digitized.

1. Siloed Data

Even though doctor’s offices are already spending time and money to create digital records, the systems are siloed. Data cannot be shared with third parties whether for research or otherwise. The information is used just for the purposes of record-keeping, making claims and disbursing payments.

2. Lack of digital data entry points.

For most, it’s just the lack of digital solutions for capturing medical data. Most medical apps cost tremendous amounts of money and time to be developed. As a result, only the bigger hospital networks can afford them.

In spite of this, were small to mid-size clinics to compare the cost of paying to encode their medical and billing data each year to the cost of developing an app, they’d be surprised to discover that they probably spend way more than they could on a healthcare app developer to build an app for them.

3. Restrictive Laws & Competition

In order for medical data to be used for big data analytics, it must be shared with several parties. This is frowned upon by many in the government and the private sector for a variety of reasons. Even if the identities were hidden, there would be other hurdles to jump - legal and economic.

Take drug research for example. If medical data were liberalized and sharing was made easy between deserving institutions, some would still withhold their data for economic advantage. Finding the cure for a disease that plagues millions of people presents many economic benefits to whoever does it first. For that reason, among many others, many are not willing to share their data.

4. Possible liabilities and privacy concerns

The most frightening prospect for healthcare institutions is the risk of being hacked. Just last month, Capital One, a leading credit card issuer in the US and Canada had 106 million customers’ information exposed by a mindblowing data breach.

The fear of repercussions has caused many smaller health institutions to stick to the old school ‘safe’ approach of using paper to record patient information. But this is akin to burying your head in the sand or refusing to drive just because someone else was in a car crash.

These unfortunate incidents have only made computer networks and hosting services more secure. But more comforting is the fact they are utterly preventable when the right tools and procedures of management are employed.

Impact on service delivery

As the world population increases rapidly, there has been an equally sharp rise in many new diseases being discovered. As a healthcare provider, you need to know exactly how to respond to these new diseases.

Countless journals have chronicled cases of illnesses previously unknown. But as the information piles up, our capacity to analyze and utilize all that information without the aid of computer systems diminishes exponentially.

Imagine the risk of misdiagnosis just because a doctor was unaware of the latest trends in his field. Pathogens are evolving every second to counteract the effects of ever-improving medicines. Having information about these trends can have a massive positive impact on service delivery. 

Increasing patient numbers

As access to healthcare becomes more critical due to the increased levels of awareness (thanks to the internet), patient numbers have increased. People are now able to easily self diagnose and then go see their doctor for a checkup.

Previously, some conditions would be ignored and considered normal. But as knowledge becomes more readily available online, people can identify when they need medical attention. The CDC reports that 85.1% of all adults 18 and over in the US had contact with a healthcare professional in 2017, 69.7% of those did so more than once in a period of six months or less.

These numbers are alarming! They affect staffing decisions, training, and financial planning. If you cannot anticipate the influx of patients to your facility, you can easily get overwhelmed and that can lead to burnout for your staff. In the end, both you and your patients will suffer. Big data makes it possible to avoid this.

Late to the party

Failure to harness mobile app technology can and will eventually cost you money as well as the health of your patients. Everyone is on a mobile device. Wearable gear is becoming very popular and many health-tracking features are being added every year. The data they collect can help you provide better services to your patients.

And if your patients see that they are getting superior care, they will refer their family and friends to you. Let’s face it. Even if running a clinic or hospital is considered a ‘calling’, you still need to make money. And patients will only pay for quality service. You owe it to them.

Home Health Care

Home health care businesses can also benefit tremendously from having mobile apps. Managers can track their care providers’ performances, receive reports and attend to patient requests in real-time. Having a mobile app brings the quality of communication to a whole new level.

Bespoke solutions

The healthcare industry is very broad and dynamic. Selecting a healthcare app developer requires intentional effort. Building a mHealth app is not like building an ordinary app. The planning, infrastructure, and know-how required are specific to the industry. You need a professional health app developer who specialized in mHealth apps.

What do you think you can automate in your practice? Go and build your app!

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