Small survey shows government health workers bullish on big data

By Jonah Comstock
08:46 am

MeriTalkA recent survey of 150 federal government executives working in the healthcare space found that just shy of 60 percent of them think their agency's mission objectives will depend on successfully using big data in five years.

The study, conducted by public-private partnership MeriTalk and underwritten by the EMC Corporation, found federal government workers saying big data would help them in different ways: 63 percent said it would help track and manage population health more efficiently; 62 percent said it would improve patient care within the VA and military health systems; and 60 percent said it would help with the delivery of preventative care.

“Forty-seven percent of 'feds' say the successful use of mHealth technologies and data has the potential to be more impactful than the discovery of penicillin,” Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, said in a statement. “That’s a real shot in the arm for improving federal healthcare.”

Although federal workers are very optimistic about big data, the numbers on actual implementations are lower. Just a third of respondents said their agency had actually successfully launched a big big data initiative. Out of that third, 35 percent said the initiative was focused on improving patient care, 31 percent on reducing care costs, 28 percent on improving outcomes, and 22 percent on improving early detection of disease. 

Fewer than one in five told MeriTalk that their agency was "very prepared" to work with big data. Only 34 percent had invested in IT systems to optimize data processing, and only 29 percent had trained IT professionals to manage and analyze big data or educated senior management on the topic.

MeriTalk also asked the federal employees about mobile health, and whether their agency was using mobile to work with or leverage data. Thirty-seven percent said they were, 47 said they weren't, and 16 percent were unsure. Additionally, 57 percent believed mobile health would improve care and 47 percent believed it would lower costs.

Despite the recent revelation that big data darling Google Flu Trends was chronically inaccurate, the topic of big data in health care has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately. In a recent piece for Biomechanical Computation Review, Esther Landhius wrote about efforts to use data from activity trackers and activity tracking apps to advance the science of gait analysis and studies of physical fitness.

According to the piece, in a soon-to-be published study from the Running Injury Clinic in Calgary, Alberta, researchers were able to use big data to predict with 94 percent accuracy which participants in a osteoarthritis study would benefit from strength training and which wouldn't. Researchers from Stanford University, meanwhile, are creating algorithms to combine fitness app maker Azumio's aggregated fitness data with a smaller subset of motion capture data from their lab. The goal is to learn more about what's normal for the human gait.

Last Spring, MobiHealthNews wrote about a government-backed big data healthcare initiative: an injury prevention pilot by the army at Ft. Detrick in Maryland. At the time, Lt. Colonel Deydre Teyhen reported that the pilot had saved the base 2,829 man-hours per brigade of 3,500 soldiers.

This recent MeriTalk survey included respondents from the DoD, the VA, HHS, the NIH, the CDC, the FDA, and others. The federal employees were mostly managers, and they worked in research, healthcare delivery, healthcare informatics, and information technology.


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