The impact of data analytics on healthcare

Technology for good has been an emerging topic in recent years. Given how far we have come with technological advancements, it is only right that we should use this knowledge to make the world a better place.

One natural area where technology can help is healthcare. We are already seeing IT advancing the sector, with the digitisation of healthcare records and care delivery already taking place. Technology such as wearables, apps and AI are helping strained hospital staff to cope with the seemingly ever-increasing demand.

And data analytics is no exception. Even before the digitisation of healthcare and the rise of big data, medical professionals have been collecting valuable patient data for years. This has led to a huge treasure trove of data points that we can now tap into. To put this into perspective, Piedmont Healthcare, a group of eight hospitals, has over 555 billion data points to draw information from.

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This data is highly valuable for improving diagnosis and can help to analyse a whole host of issues including symptoms, pharmaceuticals and dosage. Without this information, it would be considerably more challenging for medical professionals to come to the right decisions.

Many conversations on this topic often revolve around using big data to improve efficiency and reducing costs. While these are worthwhile benefits that data can bring, it is short-sighted to focus purely on this. Data analytics can also help healthcare in a more direct way.

Preventing avoidable harm

The implementation of data analytics can help healthcare organisations to avoid inflicting unnecessary harm on patients, by helping them avoid treatment mistakes or post-op infections.

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The business intelligence derived from data analytics provides answers in near real-time based on a huge amount of data. By incorporating this information, it translates into actionable decisions that provide patients with better healthcare. For example, a year after Piedmont Healthcare became more data-centric, there was found to be a 40% reduction in avoidable harm. This was determined through 30 different metrics such as the rate of patient re-admittance after 30 days.

Eliminating diseases

Data analytics can provide us with the tools to completely eliminate life-threatening diseases. Last year, there were a reported five million cases of malaria. However, this is set to change with the implementation of the government of Zambia’s plan to eradicate the disease by 2021. Alongside PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) and eight technology firms, they are working together under the Visualise No Malaria project to permanently eliminate malaria forever.

Healthcare workers are being trained to use this data to track, report, and treat malaria in order to stay one step ahead and prevent the spread of the infection. This active approach is already producing results. It enables us to better understand, manage and prevent malaria, while radically cutting down on response times.

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The answers derived from data directs staff at Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Centre on when and where medicine, bed nets and other life-saving supplies are needed (and not wasting these resources by distributing it where it isn’t needed). By embracing the power of data analytics, the elimination of malaria can soon be a reality.

Making the most of your data

Although data analytics clearly brings a lot to the table, healthcare organisations need to be sure that they are using their data properly. Key things to bear in mind are giving relevant staff the means to access the data so they have the power to independently carry out data-driven decisions and ensuring the data they receive is as close to real-time as possible.

An absolutely crucial measure is to ensure staff are trained in how to use data and know the right questions to ask, in order to get to the right actions. Big data and data analytics is incredibly powerful. It just needs people behind the steering wheel equipped with the knowledge of how to use it.

AI and data is helping the fight against disease 

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...