What if you had a “virtual doctor” who was available at any time—24x7—to give you a quick checkup, dispense friendly health advice, and even alert you to possible health problems before they become serious? What if your parents or grandparents got a gentle daily reminder to take their medication, so they would never have to worry about missing a dose? What if you could walk into any emergency room in the country and receive exactly the care you need because the hospital has instant access to all your medical records? While much of this may seem futuristic, it will become reality in a future not that far away.
Big Data and analytics are transforming healthcare as we know it. Let me share a few examples:
1. Patient care
Many healthcare providers are stretched to capacity, and can’t always follow up with patients to see how they’re doing and make sure they are following medical advice. Today, we are beginning to see pills with tiny ingestible sensors that send a message to your doctor or to a loved one to confirm that you have taken the pill—giving peace of mind to worried children of elderly parents, or anyone who needs to take medication at a specified time. In the future, these sensors will likely also be able to report whether the medicine results in the right impact, and to suggest a change of dose or even a different medication, if that is appropriate.
A high-risk pregnancy is a constant source of worry for many women. In the near future, small electronic “tattoos” will provide nonstop fetal monitoring through a sticker worn right on the skin. Wireless communications capabilities will send vital signs directly to the cloud, where Big Data and analytics capabilities can evaluate the information and send appropriate alerts to the mother and her doctor.
2. Hospital productivity and patient safety
Working at a hospital is sometimes a matter of life and death. Doctors and nurses must make decisions at a moment’s notice, often without knowing the patient’s complete medical history. Today, hospitals keep medical records electronically, and new information is added the moment it is collected—whether from radiology, the lab, or the emergency room. In the future, this information will be available securely in the cloud, so that if you have a medical emergency in another city, medical providers will have all the information they need to provide lifesaving care. Analytics capabilities will provide a real-time evaluation of your condition, offer the best evidence-based course of treatment, and alert caregivers of possible adverse drug interactions.
3. Pharmaceutical effectiveness
Doctors recommend that people with asthma keep track of their medication use to help identify factors that trigger their symptoms. Propeller Health provides a sensor that records when and where you use your inhaler. The sensor sends this data to your smartphone, which matches it to information from your asthma diary and other medical data sources to provide personalized feedback on how to manage your respiratory health.
4. Personal fitness
Health wristbands—such as Jawbone UP, Fitbit Force, and the Nike FuelBand—are becoming as common as watches. They keep track of your every move, counting your steps and the calories you consume. As the “Quantified Self” movement grows, people will monitor every aspect of their lives using sensors in shoes, clothing, and jewelry. You will not only be able to track your workout routines and body-mass index—you’ll also be able to join friendly fitness competitions, setting goals and comparing your progress with that of others. As data about you is captured and analyzed, tailored advice can help you stay in shape—both mentally and physically.
Personal health is just one area that is being transformed by the Internet of Everything, which creates valuable connections among people, process, data, and things. Big Data and analytics are a big part of this transformation. In the end, our health is the only thing that really matters because it is the foundation for everything else in our lives. Seeing the “Biggest Loser” on TV may be entertaining and inspiring. But with the help of Big Data and analytics, we can all be the “biggest winners”—living healthier, longer lives through better healthcare.