This time, as I am getting ready for the debate about technology impact, along with Chema Cepeda due on the II National Conference on Humanizing Intensive Care, I’d like to put my techno human stories and ethical debates aside and introduce a scenario, or a prediction, that sure will be on the table over the next few years.

Big Data refers to a set of data and information so big and complex it is very hard to process using management tools from conventional databases.

The question is: How do we use such a large quantity of non-structured pieces of information? 
Patients, clinics, hospitals, they all have such massive amounts of data, electronic or in paper, never used due to the difficulty an impossibility to digest it in an effective way, no matter how well intentioned the sanitary team is.

The massive data systems’ order and management is going to revolution Healthcare, and it’ll do sooner than expected. It shouldn’t be something to fear, even though it’ll for sure change our professional profiles.

There’s much discussion about massive data management possibilities. Are do we set the limits?

We find natural limits in people’s privacy rights. Meanwhile, it’s possible to sequence and evaluate the patients’ genome at a low cost, along with the radiological information, and any other information at our disposal. For instance, if a health insurance uses that piece of information to suggest a risk premium to patients with an hereditary disease, , they’ll be crossing a line, even though we’d all like proposes such info and data to pick the best antibiotic, or even adjusting the ventilation system.

That’s about the ethics, what about the technical point of view? Do we still need the health workers who take care of each and every patient?

Yes, they are very much needed, not only to conduct selective studies. Thanks to the knowledge data provides, we can individually adapt the patient’s treatments, and to do it in real time. The more data we have, the more personalized the treatment can be, allowing us to also be more efficient. For instance, we’ll all be able to forget about current alarms, and switch them for Meta Alarm systems that will be able to predict behaviors and decisions.

 How does it work?

We take all the information available from a patient. Medical evaluations, medication, genetic information (we could be talking about a hundred different data, like the one provided by monitors and ventilation) and we compare that information with the data from other millions of patients. Using the so called nearest neighbour method, the computer looks for similar cases. Maybe a treatment succeeded in the past, and that info will help the doctor’s work, offering suggestions. This would open the door to scenarios where such predictions and help were unheard of only a few years ago.

Why is it better than the classic principle?

So this is how it usual goes. A doctor learns about illnesses symptoms. Then he adds his personal experience based on the practice of his job. That’s a relatively small ratio. Big Data methods are funded on a much bigger base that is constantly being updated.

Can these methods make personal diagnosis and therapeutic strategy disappear?
No, but they can help a great deal. Big Data minimizes complexity and propensity to make mistakes. The massive data management methods can contribute to avoid a great deal of treatment mistakes, increasing the patient’s security and well being.

If you’re interested in this subject, we recomment watching this conference by Julio Mayol “Helthcare Transformation. Health in times of Big Data” Spanish Version.

Modality Manager Intensive Care Area at Dräger Hispania & Portugal
Associated Teacher at UdG – Universitat de Girona