We all hope that the healthcare we receive is top notch. But the heathcare we actually receive is lousy. With big data, it could be so much better. I’d like to think that, twenty years from now, we’ll look back at the medicine practised today and equate it to blood-letting…
I happened upon a post by a popular tech blogger, Om Malik, titled “Better medicine, brought to you by big data“. In the post, Om talks about eight different ways that big data is starting to make a difference in the way we treat health and illness. I encourage you to go have a look at his post.
In the past, you were forced to make a decision like this:
- do I seek out an older doctor, with lots of experience with thousands of patients, knowing that he’ll use this experience as a baseline for making decisions about me or
- do I seek out a newly-minted doctor, who’s been trained in the latest research and techniques, but has limited experience with any of it
I would propose that we’re inching closer to the day where you’ll have a third option:
- I seek out a doctor who’s knows he doesn’t know much, but is linked into all the latest research, millions of patients, all of the treatment options, and the best statistical outcomes for someone just like me
I know which one I would choose.
The one with a computer in the examining room.
The Personal Side Of Big Data
One of the tools that Om touches on, and one of the most intriguing to me, is PatientsLikeMe.com. It’s a start on our first step to big data.
On this site, you register with as much personal information as you desire – knowing that the more personal information you divulge, the closer the match they can make. There are sections on the site for Patients, Treatments, Symptoms and Research. So, in effect, you can know exactly what works and what doesn’t when you go to the doctor’s office.
Just for fun, I drilled down for a bit on Omega 3 Fish Oil, a supplement I was taking every day.
There are 2379 people taking Omega 3 Fish Oil in their database. 1388 of them take it every day. They take it for 143 different reasons, but 1181 take it for “general health”. 11 patients reported “fish oil burping” as a side effect of taking it. If I paid some money, I could drill down further to see the statistical medical results of taking the oil – but I didn’t because I’m cheap.
Now just imagine if these results were entered by most doctors and researchers in addition to most patients. And then you threw a bunch of heavy statistical analysis on top of it?
Imagine what we could do if everyone was linked in, and convinced to share their data on a site like this. You could have thousands of people, with hundreds of treatments reporting in on the exact condition you have. And they would report the efficacy of everything – what worked, what didn’t, what the side effects were. I’d say that the value of this data would far outweigh any “patient privacy” concerns we would have. (Patient privacy = poor quality of care = that’s what we have now.)
If your doctor is pissed off at you now when you come at them with some “treatment” you’ve read off the web – how are they going to feel when you tell them in the future that “out of 100,000 patients on this therapy, only 500 have seen a benefit – why do you think I will”?
Question: Would you share your personal health data (anonymously) if you knew it would help future treatments?