When it comes to healthcare, big data is saving lives. Although the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt it, big data is now bringing about rapid changes that will change healthcare for the better.
Ensuring staff availability
Getting the right level of staff is always a challenge for management. Using big data, we can analyze trends and use them to forecast surges in patient numbers in an emergency department, for example.
There are obvious trends – we already know admissions are likely to increase around public holidays. But there are also subtle trends that are hard to detect using the human brain alone. Big data enables hospital managers to step outside their own view of the world and predict trends based on real numbers and facts. This reduces hospital waiting times and ensures people are able to access the care they need when they need it.
Improving clinical trials for new medicines
The development of new medicines is an essential component of healthcare, with the FDA approving around 20 new drugs each year. Almost all of these new medicines will undergo clinical trials to ensure they are safe for human consumption, and effectively treat the conditions they are to be prescribed for.
Big data is helping to make these clinical trials more effective, by enabling them to pick the right subjects and identify opportunities to test existing drugs for the treatment of alternative health conditions. For example, the antidepressant known as Desipramine was recently hypothesized to be a potential treatment for certain types of lung cancer. Researchers made this discovery by scanning a huge number of gene-expression profiles to identify trends. This discovery would not have happened without big data.
Reducing the costs associated with healthcare
Big data can help healthcare providers use their budgets effectively, reducing the costs associated with their operations. For example, it can be used to optimize the supply chain – using knowledge of patient demand and order histories. This can benefit healthcare providers by ensuring they have an adequate stock of pharmaceuticals and consumables available when they need them, without ordering more than is likely to be required. Not only does this free up tight budgets, but it also maximizes the use of on-site storage and reduces operating costs associated with storing volatile substances.
Providing innovative ways to treat injuries and health conditions
Healthcare is changing. Thanks to big data, we’re no longer confined to the traditional methods for treating and preventing ill health. Innovation in healthcare means we are breaking new ground every year, constantly transforming our approach to treating conditions impacting millions of people across the globe.
The FDA, for example, have now approved battery powered hearts for implantation in humans. Game-changing breakthroughs such as this, which push the limits of what we previously thought to be possible, would not be happening without the technological advances brought about by big data.
There’s still so much we don’t know – but it will be exciting to see where big data leads us over the coming decades. From thought-controlled robotic legs to exact replicas of the human brain, are there any limits to what technology can help us achieve?