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Data quality can help healthcare providers save lives

Richard Jones Archive

By gathering information on individuals and using software tools to verify its accuracy, firms of all kinds can glean valuable insights from big data. But perhaps nowhere is data quality more applicable than in healthcare, where it has the potential to save lives.

Linda Mower, a personal care counselor for Golden Valley, Minnesota-based OptumHealth, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek about one such moment. Mower was working with a patient in New York, and in January, she received an alert from her company's software that the patient was experiencing pressure in his chest and should see a doctor right away. The patient, Stephen Hart, had triple bypass surgery the next day, and he later said the operation may have been the difference between life and death.

"You sometimes wonder if you're making a difference," Mower told Bloomberg. "But something like this lets you know you are."

Without data quality, the surgery never would have been possible. OptumHealth's software solution is able to gather accurate information on each patient - including names, locations and contact information - and keep meticulous details on their medical histories. Using all of that data, the application can make projections about what treatments will be effective for each individual.

This process is the wave of the future in medicine. InformationWeek agrees - the news source clarifies that computers will never fully replace human physicians, but they can play an important role in bolstering their knowledge by deploying data in real time. Kerrie Holley, a research fellow at IBM, said that humans and their big data applications will work hand in hand in the future.

"This technology will in no way replace doctors," Holley told InformationWeek. "It'll be an aid to doctors, and it will [enable] them to cut down on error rates."