The Big Data revolution continues to make inroads into the healthcare space, where it’s helping reduce hospital readmissions, improve point-of-care decisions and advance research, among other benefits. Take a look at this sampling of topics on offer at the 2013 Annual HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans, La. last month: “Using Data Analytics to Improve Patient Care and Safety,” “Data Warehousing for Healthcare,” “Extracting Value from Healthcare Big Data with Predictive Analytics,” “Leveraging Data as an Asset.”

Clearly, Big Data is making its mark in the healthcare world, as it is in just about every other aspect of our world—a reality that’s compellingly illustrated in the recent Cisco-sponsored project, The Human Face of Big Data (HFOBD). Consisting of a book and an iPad app, the project is designed to illustrate how data transforms the way we perceive ourselves and our world.

The project’s premise? That real-time visualization of data streaming in from billions of sensors, RFID tags and GPS-enabled cameras and smart phones is beginning to allow us, as individuals and collectively as a society, to sense, measure and understand aspects of our existence in ways never before possible through data in motion or at rest. This is a big deal. In fact, many data experts believe this global ebb and flow of data—a planetary nervous system, if you will—will soon have a greater impact on our lives than the Internet.

Back in the world of healthcare, consider this example from HFOBD of how one doctor used the power of data to gain insight into hospital and emergency room visits. Troubled by the soaring costs of healthcare in America, Dr. Jeffrey Brenner of Camden, NJ, used the records of 600,000 hospital visits to build a map linking hospital claims to patients’ addresses. Analyzing the data, he made a startling discovery—that just 1 percent of patients accounted for 30 percent of hospital bills due to repeated emergency room visits.


©Michael Bryant 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data


To help address the issue, Brenner founded the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which can dispatch caseworkers to care for the patients with the most problems. Once caseworkers began making proactive home visits and encouraging high-risk patients to stay on their medications, the target group’s hospital bills fell dramatically. In one instance, a single patient who had run up over US$700,000 in hospital bills in 12 months didn’t need another visit after the coalition’s intervention[1].

The healthcare industry also stands to benefit tremendously from Data in Motion—a term used to describe the continuous interactions between connected elements such as people, processes and things. More and more data types from new devices, sensors and cameras are at maximum value while still in motion. During these interactions, the intelligent network provides unique contextual information—such as location, identity and presence—in real-time. Value can be extracted and acted upon as events occur to generate insights that matter here and now. As a result, organizations can make better decisions, provide enhanced experiences and achieve competitive advantage.

It is critical for healthcare providers to look at Data in Motion in the face of rapidly rising healthcare costs. For example, in order to maintain and improve patient care in a cost-effective way, healthcare providers can use M2M (Machine-to-Machine) technology to remotely monitor the progress of patients in their homes. This may be more efficient and cost effective than having patients repeatedly visit healthcare facilities. It also makes healthcare accessible to patients who are unable to travel easily or live in remote areas.

Another potential application is the automatic transmission of data from patient monitoring devices in an ambulance to a hospital emergency room while a patient is in transit, along with transmission of the patient’s complete electronic medical records. Other remote patient care services include telemedicine (delivery of clinical services at distance), telehealth (monitoring from your home), telecare (devices used to monitor falls and fire surveillance—not clinical services) and telecounseling. Of note here, the Cisco Visual Networking Index Mobile Forecast for 2013 predicts that from 2012 to 2017 the healthcare M2M segment will experience the highest CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of any other vertical industry, at 74 percent.

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Looking ahead—with the Internet now entering its next major phase, the Internet of Everything—what areas should healthcare providers focus on in order to benefit from Data in Motion? One such potential area has to do with the role of biosensors in modifying personal behaviors. Many times, health conditions become worse than they need to simply because people fail to seek treatment early enough. But by the year 2022, when the Internet of Everything is expected to be in full swing, imagine how real-time feedback from biosensors could  potentially alert patients to health conditions sooner, triggering immediate behavior modification and possibly reducing the occurrence of many behavior-related health conditions.

Bottom line: Better-connected devices and data-driven patient management present an unprecedented opportunity for healthcare providers to be more effective and efficient. The cost efficiencies associated with connected healthcare and patient monitoring are estimated at US$106 billion[2]. But if healthcare providers are to realize this “value at stake,” there must be a fundamental shift in how they deliver their services, as well as in how billing and insurance services are delivered. Given these changes, business leaders will need to focus on both new technology-driven initiatives and change management. Are you ready for the change?


[1] Source: The Human Face of Big Data 2012 (Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt)

[2] Source: Internet of Everything Economy Value at Stake Whitepaper, Cisco IBSG 2013