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I’ve been working in what is now called “Big Data” for fifteen years. When people used to ask me what I did for a living, my stock response was, “I do data”. That had a remarkable ability to stop the conversation dead in its tracks (so much so that I even bemoaned the problem in a blog post back in 2008. Fortunately, I can now answer, “I do Big Data”. That subtle difference now earns me a knowing nod and a follow up discussion.

While I certainly enjoy my enhanced social position at cocktail parties, I do worry that the promise and prophesy surrounding Big Data, especially in healthcare, will fall short.

When our team looks at a data need and tries to determine whether there is a cogent business case for trying to address that need, we look at the challenges and opportunities in four distinct steps. Those steps, and our conviction as to whether we can successfully execute on all four of them, dictates whether or not we pursue the project and drives our technology, business, and marketing strategies.

The 4-Steps are:

  1. Creating / collecting the information
  2. Making the information accessible
  3. Making the information actionable
  4. Making the information valuable

I can – and probably will – write a standalone blog post on each one of those steps. But today, I’m going to start at the end and talk about “making the information valuable”. It seems rather obvious that you need to make information valuable for people to use it – and more importantly – to get people to pay for it. Yet, I’m surprised by how many newcomers to the Big Data space get so wrapped up in steps 1, 2, and 3 that they completely forget the most important step – step 4.

When I talk about value here, I’m talking about monetary value. And I define monetary value as something that either makes the customer money or saves the customer money. And therein lies the rub when it comes to Big Data in healthcare. There is so much focus on using Big Data to help improve patient outcomes and quality of care that many are losing sight of the fact that our products and services also have to provide monetary value for the customers who pay for them.

Admittedly, analyzing value is not as cut and dry in healthcare as it is in shoe manufacturing, but the fact remains that someone on the client’s team is going to do an ROI analysis on the offering and determine whether it helps them make money or saves them money. If the answer is “no”, there's a problem.

Too many Big Data efforts I’ve seen over the past couple of years in healthcare have value propositions that aim solely to improve quality of care and outcomes. Those are noble and worthwhile goals, but ultimately doomed to failure unless they can also demonstrate a financial ROI for the end customers.

For better or worse, healthcare is a for-profit business in the U.S. The only way that Big Data can systematically change healthcare is if it can provide a true monetary value to the players in the space

But if you find a data solution that can provide monetary value AND improve the quality of care and patient outcomes, well then you have a Big Data homerun. But that’s a post for another day.

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Brian Overstreet

Brian Overstreet


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Brian Overstreet

Written by Brian Overstreet