Cholesterol website issues highlight need for data analytics in healthcare

Posted by Justin Hesser on November 21, 2013

Most medicine is tested via clinical trial. A drug is developed, and then researchers get as many people together as possible to test the efficacy of a treatment method. Even a large trial might last just 5 years, which (while thorough), isn’t always adequate when it comes to long-gestating illnesses. When it comes to fighting chronic disease, such as those caused by high cholesterol, doctors can clearly use more information.

That’s where custom web application development can come into play.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that a new online calculator, which came in conjunction with new guidelines for lowering cholesterol, could be overstating risk. This miscalibration could lead to millions being identified incorrectly as candidates for statin drugs, which in turn puts a strain on doctors and manufacturers. According to Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins University, part of the issue is that people’s habits and health have changed in the decade-plus since the data was collected.

“The cohorts were from a different era,” Dr. Blaha told the New York Times.

With many patients hesitant to take statin drugs, news of these miscalculations could cause some caregivers to lose credibility. While the guideline developers were quick to stress that each patient is an individual and requires uniquely tailored care, continued issues with the website could undermine their attempts to create a standard diagnostic guideline.

The inability for the clinical trial system to accurately adapt to shifting demographic information highlights the role that big data can play. Rather than the currently fragmented electronic health records doctors are forced to wade through now, a unified system (and a web application capable of analysis), could help physicians determine the best courses of treatment — in real time.