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Q&A: Integrating Healthcare's Rich Datasets Promises Rewards

Healthcare data holds the promise of improving the quality of care while reducing cost -- but it must be integrated effectively.

Donte London, a practice principal for the analytics and data management practice at HP, is a seasoned, PMI-certified Project Management Professional with 25 years of hands-on experience with IT in the health and life sciences industries. He has successfully led several large BI initiatives, and won an HP Innovator of the Year award in 2010 for his innovative application of BI technology to facilitate chronic care management programs.

In part one of this series, London discussed some of the technology challenges -- and opportunities -- facing healthcare in integrating large quantities of data. In this interview's conclusion, he explains how consumer demographics and reform have made the patient experience extremely complex, and the role technology can play.

TDWI: Is the value of IT being fully recognized and utilized in healthcare? Why or why not? Have the business benefits of IT and its use in healthcare been proven yet?

Donte London: I'd have to say no, the value of IT has not been fully recognized in healthcare. Furthermore, the adoption of these new technologies has lagged behind other industries such as retail and commercial banking.

I see most healthcare organizations struggling to adopt big data solutions. The business can identify specific use cases that could have significant impact, but too often they aren't willing to commit to a measurable outcome absent some proof. The answer provided by IT, again all too often, is a one-off proof of concept of a discrete technology such as Hadoop. However, the IT technology proof of concept doesn't adequately exercise the business use case. Some level of paralysis ensues. What's needed is a safe and scalable discovery environment that organizations can use to exercise use cases and experience insights gleaned from their own data; taking them from high-level concepts of big data to the reality of harnessing and acting on the information and value created.

There are success stories in which healthcare organizations are successfully using information integration tools to speed innovation into practice and to disseminate best practices for clinical decision support and triage. These same organizations are employing innovative strategies for data collection, information dissemination, and information exchange to improve the quality of care and lower its cost.

How are health insurance reform and healthcare reform tied together?

The healthcare ecosystem is being reshaped by two powerful economic forces at work, each of which counters the other to some extent. I'm talking about efforts to improve the quality of care (known as healthcare reform) versus efforts to drive the cost of care down (healthcare insurance reform).

These divergent priorities have created challenges that point to technology as a very viable solution to addressing them. It's a story of big convergence.

Given that, how can technology be used to personalize the consumer experience in healthcare?

Changing consumer demographics, coupled with reform and more plan choices, have made it more difficult to offer the patient- or member-appropriate, targeted experiences. Technology can change that.

Through segmentation and clustering, technology can apply analytics to help us better understand buying and use trends. That same technology, by using advanced analytics techniques, can target consumers with the right products and offers at the right time. Unique insights about existing and potential members are found by combining external data -- such as social media, market research, clinical data, competitive information, or government data -- with internal data from claims and call center systems.

Is social media being used in healthcare applications both to communicate out to the community and to prospective patients and to gauge health trends such as flu outbreaks? Are there hospitals and other healthcare providers who are analyzing social media data successfully and integrating it with other data sources?

Yes, there are a number of examples in which social media is being used successfully worldwide to communicate with and receive valuable information from patients or members. Many healthcare organizations, especially in Europe, are using insights from social media to better target their healthcare products and services to consumers. Social media and mobile devices provide low-cost access to real-time data. In many developing countries, simple mobile phones have become tools to gather and send data for healthcare development projects.

It starts with sentiment -- people need to be unafraid to share their true feelings on social media platforms. A 2013 experiment in New York City using Twitter provides an excellent example of sentiment measurement. Researchers Karla Bertrand, Maya Bialik, Kawandeep Virdee, Andreas Gros, and Yaneer Bar-Yam created an algorithm to automatically classify tweets as positive or negative, and use their geotags and time information to paint a map. The graphic consisted of a public sentiment map of Manhattan and surrounding areas, organized by census block according to analysis of over 600,000 tweets.

What was really interesting here is that if you know New York, you could easily guess the places with the most positive sentiments (Central Park) and likely places with the most negative sentiments (LaGuardia Airport, Rikers Island). What most did not expect, however, was the large amount of negative sentiments for lesser-known locations across New York City.

The point here is that most healthcare organizations do not really know how the health consumer feels about their organization, or the consumer's specific needs for quality care. Social media represents a great way to collect and disseminate these key pieces of information, with a goal of providing better quality of care.

Another good example of that, although it's not based around traditional social media, comes from the Early Infant Diagnosis project in Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya. In Kenya, tests to determine if an infant is HIV-positive can take weeks or even months. Now, thanks to a partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, results can be available in days.

The project has improved the Early Infant Diagnosis process by automating key parts of the process for data capture and processing, and then sending test results by text message or SMS to remote health clinics where email and the Internet aren't available. Furthermore, the collected data is being combined with other forms of structured data and then analyzed. The results of the analysis are being shared with the same health workers, using the same text message vehicles.

What technologies does HP bring to the healthcare discussion?

HP offers a wide range of technologies for the healthcare industry. One of HP's newest offerings, HAVEn, is a platform that brings together everything you need to benefit from big data. Encompassing hardware, software, services, and business transformation consulting, HAVEn will help healthcare organizations make the critical business and IT transformation to connected intelligence and analytics-driven decision-making.

In addition, HP's open strategy supports all leading Hadoop distributions. We also offer:

  • Autonomy IDOL provides seamless access to all forms of enterprise data, whether human or machine-generated.
  • Vertica is a massively scalable database platform, custom-built for real-time analytics on petabyte-sized datasets. Vertica supports standard SQL- and R-based analytics and offers support for all leading BI and ETL vendors.
  • Enterprise Security ArcSight provides real-time collection and analysis of logs and security events from a wide range of devices and data sources, leveraging healthcare data to bridge both operational and security intelligence.

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