Can Big Data Reduce Health Care Costs and Improve Care?

September 18, 2014 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Using smart phones and interactive monitors may help prevent hospital readmissions.

Big data refers to large quantities of data that can be analyzed with powerful computing methods to help organizations to improve the services they provide customers or to operate more efficiently. The increased use of electronic health records, due to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, is expected to produce large quantities of clinical data for health care providers. In a new study led by David Bates, MD, MSc, Chief Quality Officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), researchers identified several ways that health care providers may be able to use this newly created big data to improve health care and reduce costs. Below are a few of the opportunities they identified.

Tailoring Care to Patient Needs

Only five percent of patients account for about half of all U.S. health care spending. Dr. Bates and his team suggest that analysis of large patient data sets can help providers better understand the health care needs of this small segment of patients, identify any gaps in their care, and adjust care accordingly.

Preventing Readmissions

Readmissions refer to hospital patients who need to be admitted to the hospital shortly after they have been discharged. Researchers estimate that as many as one-third of such hospital readmissions may be preventable. Dr. Bates and his team believe health care organizations will be able to use health records to develop models that accurately predict who is at risk of being readmitted, allowing them to determine which patients need to be monitored more closely after discharge from the hospital. Furthermore, through the use of smart phones and interactive monitors, for example, health care providers may be able monitor higher-risk patients more carefully and prevent readmissions.

Improving Care for Patients with Complicated Diseases

Chronic health conditions that affect more than one organ system can be very challenging and expensive to manage. Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are examples of these types of conditions. Until now, note Dr. Bates and his team, lack of access to health records has limited the ability of providers to systematically improve care for patients with chronic diseases. Now, with access to large quantities of health data, big data can help physicians predict the likely progression of a patient’s disease, allowing them to treat patients more efficiently and effectively.

You can read the complete article in the July 8 edition of the journal Health Affairs.

Learn more about BWH initiatives to improve health care:

- Jamie R.
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