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Big Data: Balancing innovation and privacy

Posted by Paula Turnquist

At the National Institutes of Health, planning is under way for a program that would bring the benefit of "precision medicine" to patients across the country. Allowing doctors to leverage health data from more than 1 million willing participants, the Precision Medicine Initiative would give them valuable insight into how best to create personalized treatment plans for some of the most difficult-to-combat illnesses.

Such programs never would have been imaginable just a decade ago, but since the big data surge revolutionized the way organizations used their data, the healthcare industry has been hard at work coming up with ways to harness patient data to improve quality of care.

By reducing that waste, precision medicine could have a profound effect on the cost of healthcare. For example, according to former oncologist and current Forbes contributor Elaine Schattner, rather than first prescribe costly chemotherapy as a blanket treatment for all cancer, precision medicine would allow doctors to lead their treatment with the most effective drugs for each patient's condition right away, reducing their overall cost of treatment. This could targeted approach could go a long way to reducing cancer's $157 billion burden on the U.S. healthcare system, not to mention the role it could play for any number of other diseases. 

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As undeniable as its potential may be, many healthcare organizations have so far been hesitant to invest in big data initiatives, citing a precarious balance between innovation, access and patient privacy. 

"Privacy is an ethical discussion, it's a structural discussion and it's a legal discussion," said Julie Brill, commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at a 2014 Princeton University conference. "Rather than have this big notion that big data is going to benefit mankind, we have to be specific about the benefits of any specific project and balance that with the potential harms."

Brill voices a concern that is echoed throughout the healthcare industry, as she and her peers take a calculative approach to determining when, and if, it is valuable to use patient data. 

Posted by Paula Turnquist

Paula Turnquist joined Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in 2013 as sales manager of Employer Products. She is responsible for the sales of products and services ranging from employer group health plans to Executive Health and Occupational Medicine programs. Paula is originally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is a Nursing and Health Care Administration graduate of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She has worked in healthcare since 1976 serving major hospital systems, physician practices, venture capital start-ups and large insurance carriers.

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Topics: technology

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