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Unlocking Treasure Troves of Data

February 24, 2012
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After recently reading the Feb. 16 New York Times magazine cover story, "How Companies Learn Your Secrets," I couldn't help thinking how this might impact the rapidly developing science applying sophisticated data analytics in healthcare. If Target can identify woman who is a six-month's pregnant by her buying habits, what might we achieve in health improvement with better understanding of data?

There is a mountain of valuable data that is now, for the most part, trapped in unstructured clinical notes. And the race is on to see who can develop data analytics programs to unlock the data. Next follows interpreting the data to discern patterns in care, wellness and, ultimately, improve outcomes.

At this point, most of that data is stored as hand-written notes, which has presented a barrier to access. But that nut is being cracked. And I heard a lot about approaches this week at HIMSS12.

One approach is to use natural language processing tools to 'read' the notes as well as a sophisticated application to extract meaning and find significant care-related patterns. Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM thinks their "Watson"--the computer best known for beating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy--is up to the task. As they say, Watson is going to medical school and then it will take the boards.

Speech technology company Nuance Communications (Burlington, Mass.) talks about clinical language understanding--a capability that they say goes beyond natural language processing. According to the company, increased understanding comes from the billions of lines of data that their systems process yearly that go to increase and improve its statistical capabilities. Cupertino, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard includes data searches of structured and unstructured data and aggregation to its dashboard. And it's essential to the business model for Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle's Health Information Exchange (HIE) stack that has native ties to its analytics platform. For General Dynamics (Fairfax, Va.), its high end analytics are the differentiator for its large-scale systems.

And that's just a sampling. Look for ever more sophisticated data analytic tools and tighter integration to business intelligence applications to support not only clinical care, but also financial and supply management.

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