Big things have been promised
for big data for a number of years,
often using large numbers to show
the extent of the problems that need
addressing, the amount of data that is
being generated now and in the future
that will need taming, and the benefits
that could accrue. So far, however, the
applications in routine use in healthcare have been limited.
The McKinsey Global Institute in
2011 published a report, ‘Big data: The
next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity’, that estimated
over $300bn per year value to the US
healthcare sector through 0.7% per
year productivity growth. The report
identified five ways that big data offers
• Accessibility to data.
• Collect more accurate and detailed
performance data – on everything
from product inventories to personnel sick days.
• Segment populations to customise
• Replace or support human decision
making with automated algorithms
to improve decision making, minimise risks and identify new insights.
• Create new areas for analytics,
such as using real-time location
data of people and things e.g. from
mobile phones, wireless location tags
In healthcare, however, it said
capturing value from big data faced
challenges given the relatively low IT
investment compared to other sectors.
Organisations needed to deploy new
technologies and techniques. They also
required ongoing investment to help
individuals and organisations to integrate, analyse, visualise, and consume
the growing torrent of data.
For all sectors, however, the report
found that many organisations did
not have the talent in place to derive
insights from big data and did not
structure workflows and incentives
in ways that optimise the use of big
data to make better decisions and take
more informed action. Organisation
leaders often lacked the understanding
of the value in big data as well as how
to unlock this value. They needed to
recognise the potential opportunity
as well as the strategic threats that big
data represents so they can plan their
IT capabilities and their data strategy
to take full advantage of the potential.
Healthcare also has its own complexities: privacy, security, intellectual
property, and liability were identified
as major issues to overcome due to the
sensitive nature of healthcare records.
Hospitals are complex organisa-
tions with challenges no other sector
faces. Some aspects, however, such
as logistics and maintenance, are
similar to other sectors. Bispebjerg and
Frederiksberg University Hospital in
Copenhagen has installed 800 tempera-
ture sensors in fridges, freezers and in
the morgue to monitor the performance
of this critical equipment. Each tag has
a MAC (network) address and is associ-
ated with data such as its location, the
contents of the fridge, who is respon-
sible, and the temperature setting.
The tags send data to the server every
10 minutes and an SMS alarm if the
temperature climbs out of range. After
10 months the tags have accumulated
35 million readings. The hospital saw
an opportunity to use big data analytics to improve the management of its
temperature-critical facilities and has
partnered with the recently opened
Denmark Big Data Research Laboratory
to extract information from the data.
Executive Vice President Claes
Brylle Hallqvist explained the need for
big data analytics: “It is not uncommon
that we have contents worth £ 25,000
[approximately € 33,700] in a freezer,
>> The much anticipated benefits of big data are steadily spreading
across most business sectors, but healthcare is still lagging behind,
especially in hospitals. The complexity of both hospitals and medicine
means progress is slow, but there is increasing evidence to show potential
benefits in efficiency, costs and patient outcomes.
Hospitals are com-
with challenges no
other sector faces.