In current medical practice, newborns are typically taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if the mother’s temperature rises above 100.4 degrees because that may signal an increased risk of neonatal sepsis, a bacterial blood infection. With the emergence of Big Data and evidence-based medical practices, many infants are spared that trip due to an innovative metric that allows physicians to more accurately determine if the trip to the NICU is essential.
Big Data is the storage and analysis of large quantities of information generally considered too complex for traditional use. However, a trend towards synthesizing these data into practical applications is now being explored by researchers in healthcare. For example, Big Data can allow for the combination of electronic health records (EHR), financial records, and analytic databases to inform physicians on best practices. Advancements in the treatment of neonatal sepsis are just the just the beginning.
For an update on new trends in Big Data, Murray Ross, PhD, and Joy Lewis, MSW, MPH, of the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy, attended a July 9th event hosted by Health Affairs in Washington D.C. Titled, “Using Big Data to Transform Care,” the conference explored the use of Big Data at the point of care, the role of the federal government, research issues, as well as the challenges of using Big Data. This briefing served to complement the July 2014 issue of Health Affairs by the same title.
The event emphasized three characteristics that shape the definition of Big Data, including: volume of data, diversity of data, and ability to compute data with great velocity. Lewis reported that while Big Data provides promise, challenges remain in its utilization and implementation. These challenges include perceived security risks, inevitable cultural shifts within organizations, and governance and trust barriers. In addition, Lewis observed: “There was extensive dialogue about infrastructure needs, specifically; it was acknowledged that there is a need for digital architecture that enables learning – which requires that data are put into standardized format.”
Kaiser Permanente has taken its access to Big Data to develop a unique program for use in the NICU. The program enables physicians to gauge a preterm and newborn baby’s risk of developing sepsis. The online sepsis calculator is an interactive tool for clinicians to determine the probability of neonatal sepsis, allowing the care team to better determine which babies to evaluate and treat for infection. This advancement, due in large part to the maintenance of these complex data sets by Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research, allows for increased quality of care and efficiency in already busy NICUs.
According to conference panelists, the amount of accessible health data is rapidly growing and is expected to increase 44 times by the year 2020. Presenter Paul Wallace, MD, of Optum Labs, put Big Data into context for health care professionals: “It’s less about the size of the data and more about the size of the problem that the data allows us to solve.”
To read more about the benefits of improving sepsis care and Kaiser Permanente’s work on that issue, please see our Kaiser Permanente Policy Store on the topic here.