Global healthcare is dreaming of big data. The industry has become a treasure trove of rich information, which experts say has the potential to revolutionize patient care by reducing risk, increasing efficiency and cutting costs.
As digital health is a phrase on the lips of healthcare professionals everywhere, analytics has become a necessity for health leaders.
“We’re entering an era of personalized healthcare where patients expect to have a meaningful and convenient individual health experience,” says Kaveh Safavi, who leads Accenture’s health business. “The advent of real-time patient data, smarter technologies and individualized services will help health providers break from their traditional business models.”
A new Accenture report reveals that 84% of health executives agree their industry will need to focus on training both people and machines to manage a surge in clinical data, such as using algorithms, intelligent software and machine learning.
Data analytics has become a job description for an increasing number of healthcare management roles.
“Analytics is a core skill in many domains and healthcare is no different. Data mining, whether to optimize operations and customer experience or identify trends, is critical,” says Kimberly MacPherson, associate director of health management at California’s Haas School of Business.
Elisa Zagami, head of career development at MIP Politecnico di Milano, a top Italian business school, confirms the increasing recruitment of digital savvy executive students by big pharma groups, including Eli Lilly, Bayer and Novartis.
“Analytics is one of our core subjects, and is an essential tool in healthcare,” she says.
At the most senior level, the position of chief analytics officer is cropping up at healthcare organizations globally.
This is because turning big data into business solutions represents a huge managerial challenge. “Understanding…How analytics can fit into an organization’s overall healthcare delivery strategy is significantly more important than being able to understand high-powered statistical tools,” says Professor Jeremy Petranka at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, who researches IT strategy.
The rise of digital health has prompted a focus on technology in the education of healthcare workers.
Dr Rainer Sibbel at the Institute for International Health Management at Germany’s Frankfurt School, says that programs are focused on the impact of new IT based technologies on the business of health.
“Healthcare managers and executives are very aware of these developments and their potential, and observe them closely,” he says.
But there are significant hurdles that must be overcome to realize the potential benefits of analytics.
Professor Fred Hagigi, director of global health initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management, highlights the concerns over data privacy, and also the fragmentation of clinical data. “There is pushback,” he says.
Experts also point to the potential for patient data to be targeted by cyber criminals. High profile hacks, such as the attack on US health insurer Anthem this year, which compromised 37 million medical records, have stoked these fears.
Healthcare leaders agree that stringent safeguards are needed. But the potential benefits of big data remain a tantalizing prospect.
“I can see it as a very important tool in the very near future in global healthcare and in low income countries,” says Yehuda Bassok, chair of the data sciences and operations department at USC Marshall School of Business. “There is a huge need for people that can deal with data.”