A study by the Health Inequality Project found that the richest American men and women live 10 to 15 years longer than the poorest members of our society. And unfortunately, these gaps have only increased over time. Many of the reasons behind the statistics can be explained by differences in health behaviors such as smoking and exercise as well as unequal access to healthy food options. However, with the amount of healthcare data increasing exponentially every year, can we start to develop insights that can reverse these trends?
There is no doubt that access to aggregated data sources can make overall improvements in healthcare. For example, the compilation of data from wearable devices, medical and insurance records as well as genetic information can allow predictive modeling to take place to draw a more comprehensive picture of individual patients and populations. A partnership that was announced recently between Apple and IBM will enable collaboration on a big data health platform that will allow iPhone and Apple Watch users to share data with IBM’s Watson.
Other examples include services like Healthtap and Cell Life. Healthtap is making telemedicine a reality and allowing patient access to a qualified medical professional through their computer or cell phone. This option could greatly benefit people that live in remote areas or in rural communities where access to healthcare is limited. Another service called Cell Life was created by a South African organization. They developed a mass messaging mobile service that reminds patients to take their medications, links them to clinics, and offers support services such as counseling and monitoring.
These are all examples of data analytics being used to improve patient care but there is still debate as to whether this information will really reduce healthcare disparities. The reality is that in order for the data to be used to help disadvantaged populations, access within the public sector needs to increase. More importantly, non-profits, governmental bodies and foundations will need the right partners to help them make sense of the information. They will need to find organizations who have the skills to mine the data, create predictive modeling and ultimately draw conclusions that can be turned into tangible actions. The data analysis and the understanding of how to apply that to diverse populations, will become almost more important than the data itself.
Solving social issues through big data is not going to be an easy task but the effort will be well worth it. McKinsey & Co. estimates that big data initiatives could reduce U.S. healthcare costs anywhere from $300 to $450 billion. Although this statistic is impressive, the real benefit is in providing all Americans with the opportunity to live healthier and longer lives. With the right combination of access, analysis and insights, improving healthcare for all segments of our society can become a reality.