Healthcare Catching Up with Big Data

Healthcare systems are playing catch-up with big data. Wal-Mart generates, analyzes, and acts on 2.5 petabytes of data every hour. That’s 2.5 million gigabytes, or a bit more than the contents of all the U.S. academic research libraries put together — collected every hour and analyzed in the service of our consumer economy.

Meanwhile, clinicians are just barely moving health records out of the world of paper records into electronic health records (EHRs). Health Affairs reports that 44% of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system in 2012, which is almost triple the rate in 2010. Physicians are trailing, with 40% using basic EHRs.

So while Wal-Mart knows everything about consumer needs for diapers by zip code, less than half of all doctors and hospitals have any real data to crunch. This matters because if you know what you’re doing, you can figure out where the money is going — where it’s helping and where it’s wasted. An analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week found that those communities with EHRs are already saving 3% on medical costs compared to communities that are not yet using them.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on hospitals starting to use big data flowing from EHRs to find ways to deliver better care for less money. Though it makes some doctors squirm, having the facts goes a long way toward figuring out how to do a better job caring for people’s heath without blowing the nation’s budget.

Click here and here to read more about the adoption of EHRs in Health Affairs, click here to read the study of EHR cost savings, and click here to read more in the Wall Street Journal.

Bridging Knowledge to Health, photograph © Paul Bica / flickr

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