Guest post by Liz Rea, Assistant Account Executive, PadillaCRT’s  Health Practice

A man goes to Target to complain: his teenage daughter has recently been receiving coupons for pre-natal and baby care items. Long story short, the man ends up finding out his teenage daughter is, in fact, pregnant. But how did Target know before her own father? The answer: big data. Target tracked the buying habits of thousands of newly pregnant women and found many pregnant women bought fragrance-free lotions and soaps, vitamin supplements such as zinc, calcium and magnesium and cotton balls in early stages of pregnancy. This type of big data enables Target to guess a woman is pregnant and even estimate her due date based upon her purchasing habits.

Big data is a dream come true for retailers, but what are its benefits for healthcare providers?  Prevention, early detection, trends among individuals with certain diseases, individualized care and more reliable research, to name a few.

Take, for example, Google Flu Trends, a site that tracks real-time flu outbreaks based on millions of searches around the world. In fact, data from these searches can track an outbreak 10 days before it is reported by the CDC. Imagine using big data to track patient habits or vitals (with something as simple as a wrist monitor) enabling us to predict when a person might have a heart attack before it even happens.

Big data can also be used to cut healthcare costs and increase patient satisfaction. Through tracking, analysts are starting to identify tests that are unnecessary or duplicated, based upon evidence from thousands of patients diagnosed in the past. One study estimates big data could save Americans $450 billion annually. Providers can use data to determine what services their patients need the most along with which programs to offer patients, which in turn increases customer loyalty and trust in the healthcare system.

Big data can offer healthcare providers an unsurpassed understanding of patient needs and can open doors to better prevent, detect and treat diseases. I recently attended the fall Virginia Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations (VSHMPR) conference where speaker Daniel Fell, President, Neathawk Dubuque and Packett, offered 5 ways to develop the use of big data:

  1. Take analytics seriously – Understand the vast amount of ways big data is being used and understand the ways your company can use big data. Big data can be used in planning, execution and measurement, offering a multitude of ways to implement findings.
  2. Design a data strategy – Creating a data strategy is an integral part of a marketing plan. It’s vital to build and test hypotheses, employ the right people to interpret and analyze data and use analytics to determine how and when people will utilize your company’s resources.
  3. Staff appropriately – Depending on the volume of data your company is analyzing, hiring a full-time analyst may be appropriate.
  4. Partner with the right people in your system – Tap into the diverse talent of your own company. Employees from the IT, financial and patient care departments can all prove useful in helping you find and use appropriate tracking tools, understand how to marry your data with financial data and understand how your data relates to patient demographics.
  5. Build robust data models – Getting the most out of what big data has to offer means designing, testing, building and maintaining models. Some models can mimic models used by other companies, while some will offer cutting-edge insights on big data’s impact in healthcare.

What other ways do you think big data will impact healthcare? How would you like to see your data used?

Image Credit: Dustin Liebenow URL via Flickr, CC 2.0