A wide variety of industries have benefited from using custom database software to help organize the massive amount of information they process. As this blog has mentioned before, healthcare could be next in line.
There's certainly a demand. Most of the information doctors collect exists in free-form notes in Electronic Health Record systems or as handwritten papers stuffed into folders. These relatively ad hoc file storage systems make wholesale analysis prohibitively difficult, which blocks doctors from using past data as effectively as they might. Big data in healthcare could help change that and yield some important benefits. By using custom database software to quickly aggregate and analyze patient histories and symptoms, physicians could better treat patients, address the effects of chronic diseases and reduce readmissions. Doctors could also study demographic information to track the incidence and spread of disease across larger samples of the population.
There is one major wrinkle. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects patients from having their sensitive personal information accessed, blocks usage of patient health information for purposes other than treatments, operations or billing. The solution to this may be simple: A patient-consent-driven information system. To this end, the federal government has introduced an incentive program with the stated goal of having patient health information shared more easily and with full consent.
Medicine is a constantly evolving field with a long tradition. The combination of the massive amount of information constantly being gathered and the uniquely high incentive for innovation makes it ripe for a systemic update in data management. Between the new methods for database management and the government incentives for greater patient involvement, this might be the time.