We are living in a world dominated by data and its usage. Compilation, assessment, analysis and the systematic usage of available data to improve services, form the bedrock of many industries, today. Data mining and data analysis, as they are called, hugely support the functioning of a large number of industries. Prominent among them are online sellers and retail outlets which examine and analyse every footfall, and use the information to improve their performance and service delivery.
With the onset of big data analytics, things are not the same in the field of medicine too. Just like many other prominent industries, this tool today is being utilised to revolutionise healthcare, improve delivery, systematise research and achieve better diagnosis.
From aiding medical personnel in research and patient history, to helping the patients with immediate diagnosis through various applications under its ambit, this IT-Health sector partnership has been a boon for all its stakeholders.
Collecting data and figures from patients and communities, and using analytical tools to make sense of it, find trends in diseases, predict epidemics, highlight racial pre-disposition to diseases and suggest solutions for the same are some areas where big data is changing the face of healthcare.
At the industrial front, big data enabled technology has made life easier for the medical personnel by enabling cost effective methods of testing and diagnosis through online and mobile applications. Its usage has proven to be highly essential in remote patient monitoring which allows medical practitioners to keep an assessment tab on their patients without necessarily visiting them every day. Remote monitoring cuts the costs needed for travelling and regular in-clinic visits. It saves both time and energy for doctors and their patients.
By cutting out on many overhead costs, rent, inventory and labour charges, digitalisation enables medical firms earn better profits and save funds for purposes of extensive medical research.
It also reduces dependence on personnel for customer service, thereby combating the problem of shortage in medical professionals in clinics and hospitals at a given time. As the lack of skilled talent is one of the rampant challenges in Indian healthcare, this is a change we all have been waiting for.
Focus on prevention
With increasing life expectancy rates and higher incidences of lifestyle diseases, there is a mutual consensus among medical communities that the next line of healthcare management will be dedicated to prevention. Much like how vaccines have helped humankind fight a number of deadly diseases, preventive lifestyles are now being touted as the line of defence against modern lifestyle induced diseases. Use of data analysis helps people adopt preventive measures. Digital devices that help you keep a regular check on your calorie consumption, your physical activity levels, and your blood pressure and BMI, use this data to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. This huge collection of data can also be used to predict health-related issues in people.
Easing health-related research
When we have the tools to collect such wide variety of data and analyse it, it helps researchers hypothesise new findings that are more customised for a particular community, geographical area, race or group of people. For example, if we enable our tools to collect health records of people of a particular city over a period of a few years, the data analytics experts can use their records to find health traits specific to this community, and relate them to environmental factors like air pollution, water degradation, and increased penetration of pesticides in the soil. Such analysis can lead to a better understanding of racial or environmental factors in determining health indicators of a population. Such researches have been conducted before; however, in the absence of big data tools, they are limited in numbers and more difficult to be conducted. This may still sound futuristic but it is possible and is already being practised as part of experimental projects in some parts of the world.
Quick and convenient service
One of the major highlights of this cutting edge technology is the convenience experienced by the potential patient. The ability of data analysers to pick up relevant data from the data available and provide it to the patients in a matter of a few minutes is remarkable. People now enjoy the opportunity to consult or take medical opinions through mobile applications specifically designed to answer their queries as well as connect them to their respective physicians for reminders of their tests and check-ups.
In case of a serious ailment, the reduced time in consulting and understanding of symptoms, due to a virtual presence, is crucial in making a real difference in medical success.
With the help of applications which are based on data collection and analysis, people can find out different areas of concern related to their health, including heart rate, sugar level and even calorie intake. It helps in an overall development of self-awareness about one’s own health.
Patient history takes central role in Big Data. Digitalization of patient files makes the system far more reliable and accessible for immediate use. Genetic disorders and other warning signs can be tested with the help of such information. In fact, special health packages can be customized for each patient according to their specific needs.
Big Data in the market
A brilliant example of the widespread big data application in the Indian market is the diabetes management industry. Diabetacare employs a wide range of products backed by digital technology and data analytics tools to keep a constant check on the health status of people with diabetes, and relay all relevant information about their key health indicators to the physicians. There is also a portable diagnostic tool available to screen diabetic patients for complications in eyes, kidneys, heart and foot.
All this ensures that the ingenious amalgamation of the two sciences of information technology and medicine has invigorated the health of the nation.
Dr Sanjiv Aggarwal, Founder & MD - Diabetacare, a technology backed diabetes management program