This is an excerpt of an article which was published by the Financial Times recently. 

Few people would contest that big data are going through a period of explosive growth, yet it is anyone’s guess what that will amount to. In healthcare, one measure, by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2013, estimated that making greater use of big data could soon be worth some $100bn annually across the US healthcare system. Another, in PLOS Biology, the US Public Library of Science journal, forecast that data generated by genomics alone will be on a par with that generated by astronomical science, YouTube and Twitter by 2025.

Big data analysis is already helping to reshape sales and marketing within the pharmaceuticals business. Great potential, however, lies in its ability to fine tune research and clinical trials, as well as providing new measurement capabilities for doctors, insurers and regulators and even patients themselves. Its applications seem infinite.

For example BC Platforms, a Swiss-Finnish company that manages clinical and genomic data with its own analytics platforms for academics, healthcare providers and life science companies, recently signed an agreement with Microsoft Azure and Codigo46 of Mexico to create the largest biobank in Latin America. It aims to take genomic data from 1m people over the next three years.

The Challenge:  All such excitements aside, handling the personal details of millions of people creates huge data quality, privacy and security problems.

Doug Given, director of Health2047, a San Francisco-based health systems consultancy, says much of the data gathered to date will be of limited use for healthcare providers.  “The risk is in big bad data,” he says. “Take BMI [body mass index] data. We don’t know how it was measured. Did people have their clothes on?”

Mr Given adds: “Also, data gathered 10 years ago by a brain scan is infinitely less detailed than what you would get today. There is a real issue around quality.”

The OECD last year said governments needed better data governance rules given the “high variability” among OECD countries about protecting patient privacy. Recently, DeepMind, the artificial intelligence company owned by Google, signed a deal with a UK NHS trust to process, via a mobile app, medical data relating to 1.6m patients. Privacy advocates say this as “worrying”. Julia Powles, a University of Cambridge technology law expert, asks if the company is being given “a free pass” on the back of “unproven promises of efficiency and innovation”.

Brian Hengesbaugh, partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, says the process of solving such problems remains “under-developed”.

Source: Financial Times

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