The healthcare industry has seemingly unlimited potential to capitalize on the "big data" craze. Information on patients' pre-existing conditions, medication histories and family backgrounds represents an enormous amount of data, and by mining all of this knowledge and analyzing it in real time, healthcare providers can make better decisions about how to treat each patient.
Unfortunately, completing that process is often much easier said than done. Much of the information about each patient is unstructured and disorganized. People are often making transitions with their healthcare - they frequently change jobs and switch to new insurance providers, or move to new cities and find new physicians. All of these changes require paperwork, and information tends to become scattered.
In short, health data is unstructured, and that makes for serious problems in a field that demands high levels of data quality. According to Network World, this is an issue that the healthcare and IT industries must address in the years ahead. The news source noted that as much as 80 percent of all healthcare data suffers from this lack of structure - some is on paper, filed away in receptionists' cabinets, some is saved on far-off computers and there's little way of bringing it all together.
Some say this isn't much of a problem. Laura Madsen, healthcare services lead at Lancet Software, told Network World that the healthcare industry should have no trouble capitalizing on the information it possesses, despite quality concerns.
"Data is data," Madsen said. "At the end of the day, it's just bits and bytes. If we're good data professionals, we should be integrating clinical data and business data."
Putting everything together is tricky, though, and it's a top priority. Once the health industry figures out data quality, it can begin to address its bigger issues - staffing, quality care and improved efficiency.