September 14, 2017

Big Data for the Healthcare Win

By Jason Verhoef

It’s no secret that healthcare costs are rising at a rapid pace. How do we help reduce costs? We should be turning to innovative and technological solutions.

Both consumers and employers are continually paying more for healthcare. According to the Milliman Medical Index, the cost for healthcare for a typical American family of four covered by an average employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) plan soared from $22,030 in 2013 to $26,944 in 2017. Of the $26,944 spent by the family, $11,685 is paid by the employee through a combination of payroll deductions for premiums and out-of-pocket costs incurred at the time of care. That equates to employees now paying for 43 percent of expenses and employers paying for the other 57 percent.

With the year-over-year increase in healthcare costs, a solution to bring down costs needs to be implemented sooner rather than later. Some have held out hope that federal healthcare reform efforts would help control healthcare costs growth, but we can no longer wait. Technology can be the answer to providing healthcare more effectively and efficiently, which ultimately drives down costs.


Using Big Data to Catch Illnesses Early

Big Data, the process of collecting and analyzing large amounts of data to reveal patterns and trends, has gained momentum in the last decade and can be the key to moving healthcare forward. For example, there are a variety of wearable technologies—like Fitbit— and workout apps available for download on your smartphone that can track not only how much, but also how often and how intensely you move. They provide detailed readings of your time, distance, elevation, heart rate and calories burned so you can determine where your strengths and weaknesses lie. These workout apps and new technologies have revolutionized workouts and have the potential to change the future of healthcare.

Imagine if this data can be shared with you doctor. This new form of patient monitoring can significantly benefit both individual patients, as well as society as a whole. Individually, this data can be used to create a healthcare package tailored for a specific patient. It can also be used to detect warning signs of serious illness at an early enough stage that treatment would be simpler and less expensive than it would have been if it was spotted later.

Collectively, the data collected from an individual can be compiled alongside everyone else’s to provide valuable information into general trends in public health. Currently, the medical industry collects huge amounts of data from their patients, but the information is controlled by different doctors, hospitals and clinics. There’s no uniformity; there’s no sharing of information. A Big Data solution could open the door to collecting large amounts of patient data gathered during diagnosis or treatment and make it available to researchers and clinicians to further their study and potentially find cures to life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

One startup is already trying to move the ball forward. Flatiron Health, a healthcare start-up company based in New York, has developed software that aggregates data collected from cancer clinical trials—which is usually trapped in electronic medical records systems and doctors’ notes—organizes it and makes it usable by physicians, patients and any other interested stakeholders. The company hopes that the collection and analysis of all the data will improve cancer care and treatment.


Telemedicine as a Delivery Vehicle

In addition to utilizing big data to make healthcare more effective, telemedicine can be a vehicle to make the industry more efficient. Telemedicine, where patients receive medical diagnosis and treatment remotely by using a computer or phone, is cheaper for the provider, insurance company, employer and subscriber.

Telemedicine is a “win-win” because it makes life easier for both the patient and provider. For instance, Western Growers Assurance Trust offers a “Doctor on Demand” telemedicine benefit where users can easily download an app, create an account and instantly be put in touch with a live doctor. With the click of a button (or app!), you answer a handful of questions about your current medical situation, are then entered into a doctor queue and after a couple minutes are speaking to a doctor face to face using a computer or your smart phone.

One user shared their experience with us:

“After a short wait, I was greeted by a pleasant doctor who, after a six-minute discussion, diagnosed my situation and sent a prescription to the pharmacy I elected during the initial registration process. The time from me opening the app to receiving my prescription was ten minutes…and I didn’t have to sit in traffic or pay a copay!”

In addition to being more efficient and cost effective, telemedicine interactions also leave a data trail which can be compiled by a Big Data solution. By improving the way we capture data, we will have more data, more analytics and ultimately better delivery of healthcare.