Healthcare and Big Data

Health improvement has always been one of humankind’s biggest challenge. Knowledge and methods have evolved along the years bringing continuous amelioration to our everyday life. Two expressions come up often when talking about health: Healthcare and the Healthcare System.  Healthcare, according to Collins, is the prevention of illness or injury on a comprehensive and ongoing basis. The healthcare system refers to the program by which healthcare is made available to individuals.

Using information is, however, a more recent trend. The past ten years, we have witnessed great advances in both data generation and collection but also in our ability to analyze and understand this data. Combining these two trends is referred to as “Big Data” (Marr, 2015).

It may seem as if these two fields have nothing in common, but combining them could create a revolutionary change in the way the healthcare system functions. Moreover, because we collect data about almost anything, we can affect both health and the healthcare system in many different ways.

Even if it remains a new field, it has already attracted major investors who see a bright future in joining big data and health. In total, venture capital firms as well as corporate venture funds of  Google, Samsung… have invested more than $3 billion in healthcare IT since 2013 (Byrnes, 2014).

According to where you position yourself in the healthcare industry, you will use data with a different goal in mind. If we consider pharmaceutical companies, their main challenge is to use data in order to improve profit through overhead cost reduction (Marr, 2015). However, not all parties involved aim, directly, at profit maximization. In fact, many believe big data can lead to better illness prevention.

We all witnessed the increased number of wearable devices such as FitBit, Samsung Gear, TomTom Runner, and many other, that are available for sale.  They all provide you with a somewhat similar information (heart rate, calories burnt, exercise time…) in addition to a progress overview, allowing the user to track progress as he or she exercises. It may not seem like much but if, for example, the information collected was then forwarded to the user’s doctor, he could advise his patient to, follow a more adapted exercising routine, stop unhealthy behaviour or favor certain types of food. Thus taking the system a step further.

This type of information is useful to many, but can also be essential to some. WellDoc and are two examples of firms that collect data about people suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or depression. Thanks to the data they collect from their patients, they are able to provide a daily “patient coaching system” (Byrnes, 2014) which is sent on the patient’s smartphone, indicating, for example, how much insulin to take or which medication to choose.

Focusing on the ones who benefit highly from such use of data can allow us to better understand the relation between data and health before extending it to the rest of the population.

A ground breaking idea, proposed by the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, aims at collecting data on an individual from multiple sources, in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the person and provide him with “a tailored healthcare package” (Meritalk, 2014). Furthermore, they believe that combining information about millions of people could allow the design of predictive patterns and help spot incoming epidemics, but also provide hospitals and doctors with the most adapted treatment for their patient. Having instant access to a person’s medical record and health information could also prove very useful in case of emergency. It will allow doctors and hospitals to respond faster to a person’s need since no test is needed to check whether the patient’s body accepts all types of treatment; therefore saving lives, time and money.

Many more examples of the revolution that big data is bringing to the healthcare system can be found and it will keep growing. According to McKinsey & Company, “the business opportunity in making sense of all health-related data represents about $300 billion to $450 billion per year. In addition, a PwC study shows that 95% of healthcare CEOs want to explore better techniques to understand and leverage big data.Healthcare’s future is still under construction but we can already see trends going towards a real-time and personalized healthcare, allowing a smarter management of ones health, while reducing costs across the continuum of care (SAP Healthcare, 2014).



Byrnes, N. (2014). Can Mobile Technologies and Big Data Improve Health? | MIT Technology Review. [online] MIT Technology Review. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2015]., (2015). Collins Dictionaries | Always Free Online.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2015].

Diana, A. (2015). Healthcare Dives Into Big Data – InformationWeek. [online] InformationWeek. Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2015].

Marr, B. (2015). Forbes Welcome. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2015].

Harvard Business Review, (2015). How Big Data Impacts Healthcare. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2015].


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