Feb 21 2019

Democratizing healthcare: With data, we're halfway there

by Sumit Chachra

Data can empower the healthcare industry in ways that are only beginning to be recognized. Using data to identify and manage health conditions can help improve patient outcomes while also reducing costs for providers. Progress has already begun, but there is so much more work to do.

When the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) analyzed its state emergency room data, it found that nearly 1.3 million patient visits that cost nearly $2 billion were potentially preventable. Digging further into the data, the state identified 50,000 residents that had at least four preventable ER trips in the past year due to chronic illnesses. With that information in hand, the state reached out to medical providers to make sure that these individuals would receive more hands-on care going forward.

And that's just one small example. In a recent study, McKinsey found that not only are traditional healthcare organizations recognizing the value of data analytics, but more than 200 new businesses have cropped up to harness the value of healthcare data. Beyond simply managing the data, software applications are being used to provide predictive and retrospective insights, and even to trigger direct intervention.

Data-driven treatment plans can cut costs

My prediction? The call to democratize healthcare is going to be huge in the very near future -- making it easier to track and obtain care for a huge range of medical conditions. Given the exponentially rising costs of healthcare (particularly here in the United States), providers will harness the power of data analytics to monitor individual health, and recommend action based on historical data correlations -- reducing reliance on in-person medical exams and enabling individuals to better understand their day-to-day health.

If everyone was able to have access to their own body's real-time performance statistics, and share that with their health management teams, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of doctor visits and helps avoid costly and preventable -- and sometimes even deadly -- misdiagnosis.

High-tech strides in animal healthcare leading the way

We're not that far away from a world in which people and healthcare providers -- no matter their socioeconomic status -- can have this kind of instant access to health data. In fact, by looking at innovations in today's animal healthcare industry, it's a good predictor of what the future may have in store for human healthcare. Naturally, the animal health industry has less regulation, which is why big strides can happen more quickly.

These innovations are not only helping veterinarians provide better care for farm animals and companion animals, but livestock producers are able to operate more efficiently. Right now, technology exists that can detect if a dog is suffering from a condition based on a gyroscope inside a sensor, so that if a dog shakes its head or moves a certain way, it can be an indicator that something is off. It works in a similar way to how your smartphone can tell the difference if you're in a vehicle or walking, but it's taken to the next level. For a human application of similar technology, consider an app that can potentially help detect early signs of Parkinson's based on a person's hand movements.

Wearable tech facilitates better healthcare communication

Mass adoption of connected devices like smartphones and fitness trackers enable researchers to crowdsource new insights from the wealth of available data; in turn, healthcare providers can make diagnoses and recommend interventions based on these kinds of personally-tracked data. Connected technology is making these types of conversations and early interventions possible that were not possible before.

The conversation around the democratization of health care isn't exactly new, but with every innovation, it is ramping up. In recent years, electronic health records have become the norm, while wearable technology, medtech devices, and even mail-away DNA kits have become accessible to mass markets of people. All of these changes are helping people better manage their own care, and in turn, providing better insights to health care providers. Much as IoT-connected devices can relay information that triggers alerts for predictive maintenance needs, the medical industry can use real-time health data to make diagnoses, confirm healthcare compliance, and even contact emergency services.

By empowering healthcare researchers, providers, and consumers with access to the right data, McKinsey estimates that we can reduce U.S. healthcare spending by up to $450 billion, or 17 percent of its total cost. Used wisely, data can help make healthcare more accessible, more understandable, and more affordable to more people -- a complete transformation of the status quo.

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