Whether it’s electronic records, health informatics or the burgeoning telehealth movement, one thing is clear: there is nothing more important in global healthcare than the advent of digitization or more specifically, the big data revolution. In the technology world, we are now well informed about the enormous benefits that rich information can yield to healthcare intervention, for better diagnostics and patient monitoring etc. This new world of prediction and prevention will undoubtedly step change the cost of healthcare delivery for sure it seems. Logic would also suggest that our hospitals will empty and reduce in size to become pure to A&E departments reserved for true emergencies or special cases which can’t be managed through the cloud (via effective collaboration between patient, physician and other relevant professionals). Microsoft’s view of this near future is handsomely depicted in this insightful 4 minute video.

Looking at this scenario, liberation would appear to be just around the corner. However, having registered with a local Doctors surgery the other day (my previous GP is retiring and the surgery moving location) it’s difficult to see these benefits arriving any time soon. I think there were 3 or 4 forms to fill in, passport to prove ID, all sorts of questions about my health history; all very reassuring and in my best interest but astonishingly, absolutely nothing about ‘me’ appeared to be available on line. So the big data revolution which is set to change our lives is all looking a bit sci-fi to me, despite my enthusiasm for it.

OK. So we all know about the complexity and difficultly in the Government’s attempt to digitize our patient records but I can’t help thinking that the big data movement which is surging ahead is not benefitting anyone at a healthcare delivery/patient level, not yet at least. Of course, the history of technology innovation has always been in the private sector and we all recognise that in a capitalist society, business needs to make a profit. However, my resolve here is that innovation in products and services rooted in big data must address the patient/person more directly. Only then will the benefits of this remarkable capability be truly revolutionary. The mobile phone, email on my blackberry, iTunes, did this and they all changed society. The cost saving benefits of keeping patients out of hospital through telehealth and pro-active diagnostics are laudable for sure but a killer app, something which directly benefits me (at a personal and ‘I must have it now, I can’t do without it’ level) is needed to truly bring these benefits into mainstream society. 

Empowering patients to take control of their health by being connected to better information is the key to success and this must be the driving force behind regulation, privacy policy and ultimately, healthcare spend. The person centric provision of healthcare technology (which capitalises on the information derived from big data resources) must become the norm. My fear presently is that the true potential of the big data phenomenon will become lost somewhere in a proven cost reduction exercise, a company share price gain or glamorous claim from a Minister who has trimmed public spending without degrading service levels.

The brave techies, the ones who dare to dream big enough to put people first, can liberate us through big data. Bring it on.

Martin Noakes

Martin Noakes is a Partner at Odgers Berndtson and a member of the firm's Technology, Entertainment & Communications Practice leading C level assignments for global communications providers and tec...

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