Big Data helps support vaccination policies

In many public debates, there's a certain fallacy of balance. Two sides are presented as though they're equally valid, and the answer is presumed to lie somewhere in the middle. Television, especially, exacerbates this notion: when you give both sides of an argument equal time and platform, regardless of their factual basis, it presents them as equally legitimate. 

Such is the current problem with the vaccination debate. Thanks to a few high-profile naysayers, the notion that inoculation is bad for children has gained a firm toehold in our national discussion. Even some notable celebrities have gone on record stressing the link between vaccines and the incidence of autism.

Thanks to Big Data, however, those arguments can be squashed much more easily. Using custom database software, physicians can directly model the negative effects of not having children vaccinated, and accurately estimate the number of preventable deaths that are caused by an unwillingness to seek this type of medical treatment. They can likewise dispute the claims that there exists any connection to autism. In fact, the website of the Mayo Clinic now bluntly dispels that. 

"Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven't found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted. Although signs of autism may appear at about the same time children receive certain vaccines — such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — this is simply a coincidence," explains the site. 

This knowledge goes much further than a debate on television. A more thorough understanding of the benefits of vaccinations has been proven to save lives, and Big Data is helping to make that happen.

FileMaker could streamline hospital administration

In the past, health care was completely responsive. A patient would come in with a particular malady, a doctor would diagnose it as best as possible, and then they would set out on a course of treatment. Now, physicians are making a greater attempt to anticipate and react to health related issues, before they even rise to the level of requiring a clinical visit. 

For many doctors, Big Data can be an important part of those efforts. One of the primary issues in modern health administration is the sheer amount of infrastructure and scheduling necessary. Unlike the past, when a house visit could be made on a particular day, modern medicine necessitates a level of administration that can often be cumbersome. That is where analytics can come in. 

One of the problems that doctors face is coordinating records across multiple systems. Many things are done on paper and have to be scanned or filed by hand. By using the FileMaker service, however, they can better organize data and treat patients more effectively. 

There are ancillary benefits as well. By parsing the information and identifying trends, a physician can see which patients are likely to come back and how often, knowledge which can speed up their care process. In addition, they can pinpoint factors that are leading to recurrences, and note national health patterns before they reach the level of crises. It could even reduce the incidence of chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer, which tend to occur relatively more frequently in particular populations. 

As care gets more specialized, it will be fascinating to watch how doctors are able to implement new database technology into the age-old process of making people feel better. 

Healthcare industry ready for Big Data

Healthcare might be primed for a shift.

As we've discussed in this space before, the industry has a uniquely strong need for high quality analytics. Not only is the context difficult — every human body has different needs and weaknesses, the stakes are also high. An incorrect diagnosis from a physician can mean the difference between a patient improving or dying. Custom database software could help in those efforts, by allowing doctors to pool their knowledge together and determine treatment courses, but is currently not widely implemented.

What's the hurdle?

It isn't a lack of available information. Hospitals keep records on every patient, from their age to their gender to any medications they received while in treatment. In fact, on a small scale, it's those exact charts that help guide providers in the best course of action for a particular situation. However, translating this value to a wider scale has so far proven elusive.

Part of the issue is a lack of standardization. All of the valuable data collected is vaulted by closed hospital systems, which makes it difficult to share with any efficacy. With great effort (and often prohibitive cost), retrieval is possible, but the formats and terminologies still tend to be particular to an institution. Getting information into a clinical system is the easy part, but making sure it's possible for it to interface with other systems has, to this point, been largely fruitless.

Slowly but surely, that is changing.

One important update is that certified medical records have to at least provide summary data on patients in XML formats. While this isn't the only change that needs to take place, it at least represents a shift in the mindset that prevents cooperation, and a starting point for sharing data across interfaces. Doctors are coming around to the need for collaboration, which has only intensified in recent years: there are an estimated 14 providers caring for each patient with five or more chronic diseases.

In addition to technological breakthroughs, financial circumstances have and will continue to play a role in the development of big data systems. Insurers are looking to adjust how they determine costs and save money wherever they can, and researchers are interested in developing effective and cheap methods for treating large groups of patients. 

Public perception also appears to be shifting in the direction of big data. Simply put, people want quality healthcare, and an antiquated system with limited communication between interested parties is not going to be as well equipped to provide it. Eric Schadt, director of the Institute of Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai Hospital, predicted such a shift in an interview with USA Today, especially as more providers realize that the option is even available.

"I think in five years' time, we will be talking about advances in several different areas such as cancer that are routinely impacted by big data," said Schadt.

While the custom information-sharing technology needed to truly revolutionize the way we care for patients might not be here yet, the changing landscape suggests that we are headed in the right direction. 

FileMaker Development improves Northwestern Hospital care

Today's leading edge hospitals are quickly learning the diagnostic value of beside ultrasound scanning. However, learning to perform them isn't an easy task: it takes formal training to become certified. At the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, they realized that FileMaker development could help with this daunting process. 

Initially, they considered using other software. However, when judging excel vs. FileMaker, they found that the former just didn't have the ease of use or flexibility required for such a difficult and important task.

In the past, training happened largely via index cards. Doctors had to lug them around everywhere, recording data on the date, time and any observations made during their exams. Considering how many components they were looking at—heart function, lungs, organ size and any other abnormalities—it quickly got tedious.

In addition, if one of the cards was lost or forgotten, that information simply didn't get recorded.

No longer, thanks to FileMaker. Using the Go program for iPhone (most of the doctors already use these smartphones as pagers), physicians can access a custom tracking program. With just a few button presses, they can easily record, with is transmitted wirelessly to servers. 

This functionality doesn't just help caregivers perform ultrasounds, it helps them do them better. When teaching a a trainee, a trainer can quickly evaluate how accurate the diagnoses are, and step in to correct any ongoing mistakes. In addition, physicians can track their own progress and improve on any areas in which they might be lacking. 

Says Dr. David Tierney, director of the hospital's ultrasound program: "In the end, it is all about taking the best possible care of patients using the tools we have available. If ultrasound can fit in our little black bag, it is wrong for it not to be there. FileMaker is helping us make bedside ultrasound part of our standard tool set."

Just another way the simple program can help save lives. 

Cholesterol website issues highlight need for data analytics in healthcare

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.

White House pushes new big data initiative

Once again, the highest levels of government are taking a strong interest in big data.

On Tuesday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Networking and Information Technology R&D program (NITRD) unveiled a series of new programs designed to connect federal data with private companies who are interested. The targeted fields vary widely, and comprise everything from medical research to linguistics. 

Some of the medical research being supported is particularly compelling. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $2 million grant to IBM Research, Geisinger Health Systems and Sutter Health to help combat the risk of heart failure. By analyzing the provided data (which include patient demographics, medical histories and medications), the companies hope to build tools that can help doctors better predict which patients are in the most danger, and intervene earlier, an innovation which could save money and lives. 

Not only will this push create jobs, it can also help to develop new skills. An estimated 4.4 million jobs will be created in the next two years via these projects, and the government is working with educational institutions to help a generation of students deal with issues related to big data and managed it software. IBM has created a new tool to assess the efficacy of such programs and give students feedback on how prepared they are for careers in data management. Currently, eight universities will receive the tool: Fordham, George Washington, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Northwestern, Ohio State, Southern Methodist and the University of Virginia.

The government's wealth of data combined with the ingenuity of the private sector? Sounds like a winning combination. 

How custom database software could help cure cancer

Big data has already helped doctors to diagnose and treat patients. Now, it can help to create the very drugs that will be prescribed.

Two researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, have created custom database software able to match cancer-linked genes to drugs, whether they be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or just entering the development pipeline. 

Obi Griffith, PhD, and Malachi Griffith, PhD, the identical twin brothers who developed the project, are experts in a field of science known as bioinformatics, which combines biology and computing. The discipline often involves analyzing large quantities of data, and after being repeatedly being asked whether lists of genes identified through cancer genome sequencing could be targeted with existing drugs, the brothers got their idea.

"It shouldn't take a computer wizard to answer that question," said Obi in an interview with the school's paper. "But in reality, we often had to write special software to find out. Now, researchers can quickly and easily search for themselves."

The custom database, which took years to develop, is freely available for all to use. It features more than 14,000 interactions involving 2,600 genes and 6,300 drugs that target those genes, along with another 6,700 genes that could eventually be the target of future drugs. The search function is easy and intuitive: users can enter the name of a single gene or lists of many genes to retrieve drugs targeting those genes. This data can inform researchers of how best to target genetic errors.

While it is informative, the database does not recommend treatment and is most valuable as an in-depth resource to further clinical research. Nonetheless, this is an exciting development in data management that will support life-saving experimentation.

Big data management can help individualize healthcare

Data has always held an important position in the organizational structure of the healthcare industry. Organizations have used information to fuel innovation and find new ways to enhance their patient care efforts, but before medical institutions can move forward, they have to develop a solid base of quality care and patient experience initiatives that they can build off of.

When patients check into a hospital or doctor’s office, they have a number of unique qualities that ultimately distinguish themselves from every other individual who walks into the front door of that facility. The more the organization knows about the specific patient ahead of time, the better they can treat them. This is similar to the way businesses use data to cater their product development and marketing to each individual.

When data isn’t properly managed to help cater services to the individual, the results can lead to poor service and dissatisfied patients and family members. A May 13 article in The Boston Globe features the story of Calvin Hill, a man who went to great lengths to help his father Foster Hill, after he was diagnosed with later-stage prostate cancer. While the younger Hill was doing everything he could to ensure his father’s recovery, he admitted it didn’t feel as if those tasked with helping him expressed the same level of concern.

Hill explained the frustrating ordeal of trying and failing to receive treatment specifically catered to his father’s needs. While he didn’t want special service, he felt as if taking each relevant factor into consideration during the treatment process would have gone a long way toward improving the level of care his father received.

“You show up to the hospital, and it’s like Groundhog Day,” Hill told the Globe, explaining that there were few discernable differences between the way each patient was cared for. “It’s this outdated standard of care created for this hypothetical average patient. But no one’s an average patient.”

However, Hill has the resources to do something about this. His company, GNS Healthcare, processes big data and uses pertinent information about each patient to help generate a specific care plan designed to address certain variables, such as medication allergies and unique symptoms, in conjunction with basic identifiers like age and gender. Couple this concept with the innovative medical practices found throughout Boston and the surrounding area, it’s likely that patients will soon enjoy a level of personalized care they never knew.

While this concept has many in the industry very excited, it’s important to understand that it all begins with the ability to view and manage information quickly and efficiently. FileMaker development can help organizations build a custom database software system designed to process information and design specific strategies based on that data. By using FileMaker, users can ensure their solutions are created properly, which can alleviate the risk of inaccurate information processing. Nothing would be more damaging than creating a system to organize specific care strategies based off of inaccurate information.

Working with a FileMaker development specialist can help guarantee the quality of a data management solution.

Healthcare innovation fueled by database software 

Efficiency in the healthcare industry is of the utmost importance. Organizations are always searching for innovative ways to cut costs while building productivity, all in the name of ensuring patient safety.

In Canada, this is the industry’s top priority, so on February 6, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) hosted a forum for industry leaders to share ideas and discuss key initiatives that can spur greater efficiency. Prior to the event, CFHI vice president Maureen O’Neil released a statement indicating that the three most important topics to addressed during the forum were building efficiency, reducing spending and providing a better patient experience. 

“There is no single way to achieve this triple aim of healthcare, however experiences gleaned from the best evidence and emerging practices in parts of Canada are transforming healthcare systems and institutions for the better,” O’Neil said. “There are innovations underway that are proving quality care, efficiency and a strengthened patient/family-centered approach, are not mutually exclusive.”

Finding a comprehensive solution to meet all three needs can be accomplished with the help of custom application development. By building a database software system designed to track pertinent healthcare data, organizations can better manage their information and use it more effectively.

Hardware innovation is rampant in the healthcare industry, as many hospitals are ditching traditional desktops for laptops and mobile devices. Instead of printing out patient information from a stationary computer, doctors can simply access it on their tablet or smartphone in front of the patient, improving service and giving the patient a better overall experience. By using FileMaker, organizations can build powerful systems that can improve all components of hospital operations, thus enhancing the level of care they give to each patient. 

Custom software can assist healthcare marketing

While some organizations aren’t typically perceived as moneymakers, it doesn’t mean their marketing efforts are any less important. Healthcare, for example, is viewed as a service, but hospitals have to make money. Doctors must be paid. New equipment must be procured. As a result, many healthcare organizations have to find ways to improve revenue streams. Much of this can be accomplished through advanced marketing strategies, but many hospitals have struggled to find ways to successfully market themselves.

An article in the online publication My Digital FC examines the struggles healthcare organizations have encountered with their marketing operations. The article implores healthcare marketers to take advantage of their resources and deliver a clear and concise message.

“The marketer should balance between environmental design and marketing as it involves a healthcare facility,” the article says. “Too much of in-your-face advertising can backfire as people are there for an unpleasant reason. When spending a lot of money on interior design, they need to have a clear mandate: Help patients get better fast. If you overdo the branding or advertising just because the media is free, it can work against the mission of the hospital and patients may shun the hospital.”

While this is certainly important, it’s equally as crucial for healthcare organizations to compile all of the data that results from their marketing strategies and incorporate it into new operations. This can be difficult in healthcare IT environments that contain a number of complex systems spanning a wide range of departments, so using FileMaker to develop a centralized database software system is ideal. By creating this custom solution, healthcare companies can realize the potential of their marketing campaigns by easily processing data and giving themselves a clear view of pertinent information.