Do you remember Ginger? No, I don’t mean one of the castaways on Gilligan’s Island or the head cheerleader from high school. I’m referring to the code name for what was eventually unveiled as the Segway personal mobile vehicle in 2001. The pre-publicity hype was almost unprecedented. According to Wikipedia, Steve Jobs called Ginger “as big a deal as the PC,” and venture capitalist John Doerr stated that it could be even more important than the Internet.
Few today would declare that the Segway revolutionized western society. Its reality never matched its buildup. However, after the smoke cleared, the Segway did earn a solid, albeit less spectacular, place in American life – used largely by security patrols, tour operators and a few others.
I believe the phenomenon we call “Big Data” in healthcare is following a parallel trajectory. A few years ago, we started hearing about the enormous potential of Big Data. It could work miracles. Other industries have applied its principles to identify unexpected links among various behavioral aspects, analyzing everything from purchasing decisions to biological research to crime prevention approaches. And now it’s coming to healthcare.
As often happens, early reports touted more impact than is likely to be realized. If healthcare Big Data is to emerge beyond the “gee-wiz” stage, we must identify specific, measurable applications that, above all, can be implemented in practical ways.
I recently heard of a company that spent over two years developing a highly sophisticated algorithm pulling data from various sources (the core activity of Big Data) to predict an individual patient’s likelihood of readmission. In this new day of Medicare readmissions penalties, such a program could be the “Holy Grail” of the industry.
The only problem with this product was it lacked a mechanism for clinicians to access the data at the point of care, where clinical decisions were actually being made. No one would use it. Consequently, it drifted into healthcare IT purgatory. Having data is not enough. We must be able to apply it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in Big Data and its potential impact on clinical and organizational practices. In fact, I am honored to be on the advisory boards of two Big Data companies. What these companies have to offer healthcare is phenomenal, and I’m convinced our field will take great steps forward over the next few years as we figure out just how to capture its true potential. But the applications must be practical, and they must be “sold” in a realistic and somewhat humble way. No more Gingers, please!
I predict that 2016 will be the year that Big Data transitions from the “science project” stage to becoming a trusted and useful tool for addressing targeted healthcare needs. It may never become all that Ginger was supposed to be, but it will certainly make a big difference in how we deliver care.
Glenn Pearson is the Founder of Pearson Health Tech Insights, LLC, and a regular contributor for Future Healthcare Today.