Ponderings from the Podium: Big Data, Mobile Health & Information Exchange

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Source: Amy-Abernethy.jpg - Amy Abernethy, MD
Amy Abernethy, MD, Director of the Center for Learning Health Care at Duke Clinical Research Institute, spoke during the TEDMED conference.

Associations and federal agencies have been busy hosting meetings and webinars that address pressing issues facing healthcare organizations, including data analytics, privacy and security, health information exchange and innovation. Clinical Innovation + Technology was there and here’s your chance to listen in.

dataWave.jpg - Data WaveDrowning in data?

The Boston Health IT Summit hosted by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation covered big data, mobile health and innovation. One challenge is maintaining the vast amount of health data, while meeting high security and privacy standards.

Security is a major concern, said Cara Babachicos, CIO of community hospitals and nonacute care, Partners Healthcare, in Boston. “Servers multiply like rabbits. We have two data centers and are about to build a third so I don’t see this getting any easier. I see us replicating data more and more and having to do it on the fly.” The organization frequently does replication of data so they don’t have “to hit the source system with a complicated process,” she said.

Partners also is looking at data storage with different security levels, she said. “Materials management data might not be the same as clinical documentation.” Appropriate security is “a big deal and the industry overall needs a lot of assistance.”

Storage and quick access add to the complexity. As Micky Tripathi, PhD, president and CEO of Massachusetts eHealth Initiative, shared: “How do we keep that storage growing in a way that meets the needs of the overall size and magnitude of the data and is sensitive to increasing performance demands?”

Cloud computing is an oft-mentioned solution, but “the notion of moving to the cloud is very complicated,” said Jeffrey Brown, CIO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence, Mass. “Our organization has housed, owned and operated all its own IT systems for years.” Moving to the cloud requires a robust security program, he said.

“Nothing scares you more as a CIO than when you start looking at NIST [National institute of Standards and Technology] 800 controls and there are more than 200 around security and process. The cloud becomes a real risk to an organization.”

But when it comes to making decisions, Brown said he is “always baffled when people are just stalled. We can’t move forward without data and systems.”

Tackling transparency

Speakers at the April TEDMED conference discussed the process of innovation, how to better use health data and advances in mobile health.

If health data are a valuable resource, why not donate them like blood?, posed Amy Abernethy, MD, director of the Center for Learning Health Care, Duke Clinical Research Institute. People should act as stewards of their own information, which they could share and distribute to enable scientific research. “We need a mechanism, something that we trust, that allows us to aggregate our health information and carefully share it onwards.”

The digital traces consumers leave behind in their mobile technology interactions offer clues to their well-being and can inform their healthcare, said Deborah Estrin, computer science professor at Cornell Tech in New York City and co-founder of Open mHealth.

“We are continually generating digital breadcrumbs, and those breadcrumbs together form digital traces,” Estrin said. Social networks, search engines, mobile operators, online games and e-commerce sites all aggregate and analyze these traces or “small data,” but no services are considering the value of returning this information back to the consumer, she noted.

A robust and sustainable privacy policy based on transparency could open the doors to consumers understanding more about themselves and their health, Estrin said. She currently is working on prototypes, or vehicles to repackage consumers’ small data that is digestible for the end user.

“We should be able to mine those digital traces for our own purposes,” Estrin said, noting that data-driven insights often detect early warnings to a health problem. For instance, digital traces can inform a patient whether a new medication or supplement is working. If someone begins taking a supplement for arthritis, his or her digital footprint would provide quantitative and objective measures showing whether that person is more or less sedentary.

Several representatives of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton addressed issues tied to the power of data to transform healthcare.

We can’t unleash the power of data if they are stuck in various stovepipes, said Executive