March 15, 2015 – James Tcheng, MD, was asked to answer the question, “So just what is Big Data?” And, specifically, “What is its potential value to the health care industry and cardiovascular medicine?”
As part of “The Future of Cardiovascular Medicine Track” at ACC.15, the DCRI’s James Tcheng, MD, was asked to answer the question, “So just what is Big Data?” And, specifically, “What is its potential value to the health care industry and cardiovascular medicine?” Tcheng gave us a preview of what he planned to discuss at the conference by answering the following questions.
DCRI Communications: We hear the term “Big Data” a lot—but what exactly is Big Data?
Dr. Tcheng: Big Data has multiple dimensions—to start, the datasets can be extremely large. But it isn’t just size—Big Data is also multidimensional. In other words, the expectation is that there are multiple data sources that contribute to the analysis datasets. And Big Data isn’t just data—it is also analytics. The analytics applied to Big Data use multi-dimensional data sources and analyze them to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, to drive insights into human behavior and the human experience.
DCRI Communications: What is the potential value of Big Data to the health care industry?
Dr. Tcheng: Big Data approaches have the potential to improve the health and welfare of patients—and populations—and do it more cheaply and with greater applicability and generalizability. Note that Big Data is inherently inferential, information derived from observation and insight, rather than deterministic (e.g., randomized clinical trials and classical statistics). What Big Data can do is understand the impacts of diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies and treatments across broad groups of patients and diseases, and return information much more rapidly and efficiently than more classic methodologies.
DCRI Communications: What is the potential value of Big Data to the field of cardiology?
Dr. Tcheng: Cardiology is perhaps the most data-rich environment in all of medicine. A prerequisite of good Big Data is good data inputs. Since cardiology has both the opportunity for good data and has a diverse and deep basis of science driving guidelines, best practices, and health policies, cardiology is poised to take advantage of what Big Data can provide. Big Data can take us well beyond our classical constructs of medicine by incorporating patient-reported information, genomics, and social media derived data, into creating a more accurate and composite picture of both individual patients and populations of patients.
DCRI Communications: Is the health care industry prepared to capture the full potential of Big Data?
Dr. Tcheng: No—we are just scratching the surface. To successfully accomplish Big Data, we will need to invest a lot more time, energy, and resources into the informatics—the science of information management—of Big Data. There is still a long road ahead of us.
DCRI Communications: What about privacy issues?
Dr. Tcheng: Maintaining the privacy—and security—of individually identifiable data is a must. While individual data are obviously the entry point for Big Data efforts, the power of Big Data is actually in the aggregation of a myriad of data points across multiple data sources. So the focus will need to be on protecting the “data in” side. Once the data are aggregated into the extremely large datasets characteristic of Big Data, attribution of any single analysis to individuals no longer is possible.
DCRI Communications: Are there other concerns related to Big Data in health care?
Dr. Tcheng: One issue is that we—everyone—needs to understand enough about Big Data to make sure that the focus remains in the service of the public interest.
DCRI Communications: What else would you like to share about Big Data?
Dr. Tcheng: A lot of promise and a lot of work remains. Key is that Big Data will be able to answer many more questions—and more rapidly and more cheaply—than our classic approaches, especially clinical trials. Hopefully Big Data will augment and accelerate medical knowledge and medical science in ways that we are just now starting to appreciate.