What even is big data anymore? I mean the phrase has been over promoted, overpriced and over tweeted.
Yet, I keep using it. You keep using it. We all use it!
A recent, brilliant article by John de Goes declared that ‘Big Data’ is Dead. What’s next?‘ To me the answer was blindingly obvious because it’s, in many ways, common sense. It harks back to one of my earlier articles where I explored how we define digital health.
What’s the purpose of the quantified self movement? What’s the purpose of digital technology in healthcare?
To me medicine and healthcare are and always will be about humans. About the covenant of trust and respect that is the Doctor-Patient relationship. Technology can empower both sides to be more transparent, responsible and accountable than ever before.
We need to give big data meaning and that’s exactly the challenge I’m trying to tackle.
1. Data —> Information —> Knowledge
The wanton collection of data is, by itself, one of the most dangerous acts of 21st century technology. It’s awe inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. We collect because we can. Do we know why we’re collecting it? Do we know what it even means? Who’s going to use it? Does it actually change anything?
When I was practicing medicine I remember one of my professors stating the reasonably obvious, ‘It’s not about testing because we can. It’s about doing the right test when it’s needed.’
That statement is as true today as it ever has been. Healthcare professionals deal with mountains of data on a daily basis and they don’t need more volume. They need to collect data that can have impact, that can inform, insight and effect decision making and management. And by the way, that’s the same for patients as well as doctors.
Next time, you start creating an algorithm or platform for collecting data just take a second to think – ‘Will this data turn into information and knowledge?’
2. Start Listening
It’s one thing to guess about what will and won’t be useful but it’s still a guess and not a fact.
You’re hypothesising. What we need to be doing is talking to each other. For one, as a business you’ll end up creating something that actually helps your end-users and as doctor or patient you’ll have a chance to share your concerns about data collection with someone who could actually solve your problems!
Beyond that are the issues of integration and use. How are you going to make something that a doctor or patient can practically use if you have no idea what their daily lives are like? Do you know that in hospitals doctors still wheel around a computer on wheels (C.O.Ws) whilst doing rounds? What about nurses who have to constantly monitor patients on wards. Are you optimizing big data for them too? Not everyone’s carrying a smartphone or an iPad so what then?
When it comes to patients, well, little widgets are great but people have lives! How many USBs are lost in washing machines every year? What happens to skin patches when people have a shower?
These might sound like mundane and boring questions but they’re reality! How can you collect the right data in the most user friendly way possible? Listening helps.
3. Humans not Robots
I urge you. In fact no, I implore and beseech you if you remember nothing else remember this.
Medicine and healthcare are about humans. It’s about trust and empathy as much as it is about MRI scans, blood tests and surgery. You might be thinking, ‘What’s this go to do with big data?’.
It’s got everything to do with it. As technology gets more sophisticated in its ability to collect data and detect patterns then teams of healthcare professionals who use it will have greater responsibility than ever before to interpret and manage the delivery of this data as information and knowledge for their patients. Patients’ will be empowered to ask more questions and search for answers but when they’re receiving this raw data it might be so new that no-one has the right answers.
Be considerate. Think about how your technology is going to change and, hopefully, enhance the doctor-patient relationship as well as create new anxieties. How can you make this process easier practically and emotionally?
It Ain’t Easy
I’ll be honest. I haven’t said anything that’s going to revolutionize the role of big data in healthcare. All I wanted to do is give it a reality check and bring a bit of humanity to it. Big data is going to change the game and that’s inevitable but maybe if we start thinking about big knowledge instead from now we can make that positive effect start sooner.
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