Big data has been a primary focus of change in the U.S. healthcare system. Small data, however, will drive even more change for individual patients and disrupt both the Internet of Things and physician's day to day clinical practice.
Right now, we're moving toward the collection of biometric, lab and imaging data on an unprecedented scale. This small data collection on patients over time is quickly creating an ecosystem where the consumer is connected to sensors that monitor biodata, and subsequently connecting them to the Internet of Things. Soon, we will advance to biosensors that can be implantable, wearable and ingestible, sending data to the cloud where super-computers like Watson and Sentrian can autonomously identify frank illness or lack of wellness while making that data actionable for both the user and their care team.
So, how exactly will this disrupt the industry?
Here are three specific ways:
1) Earlier Diagnoses: Already, we are shifting toward what are commonly referred to as "smart" objects, with biosensors integrated into our day-to-day lives. Smart homes and smart vehicles utilize biometric data, merging more data with more accurate algorithms to detect change faster and more efficiently. When applied to healthcare, a stronger and more accurate interaction with the Internet of Things will facilitate earlier diagnoses.
For example, a COPD patient's home could have air filters that are activated when they are having an exacerbation, automatically adjusting their home temperature. In the event of a more serious conditions, biodata could seamlessly be routed to the appropriate healthcare system or infrastructure qualified to handle that condition, such as an automobile steering wheel sensor that can diagnose a dangerous arrhythmia - perhaps automating a driverless mode to navigate the patient to the nearest healthcare facility while generating a notification to that facility as needed.
2) Personalized Treatment Regimens: As the small data ecosystem develops, consumers could very well diagnose blood cancer and disease right at home, while immediately triggering referrals to the appropriate specialist. Subsequently, therapies targeted to daily improvements in blood counts could be made possible by utilizing ingestible sensors that monitor patient medical adherence and health status.
Small data utilization can also become a part of overall treatment strategies. A recent study done by Northwell found that, while readmissions of patients using remote patient monitoring did not decrease, they were in the hospital for a shorter duration with a lower cost of admission. Sensors that strengthen remote patient monitoring - for example, tracking significant weight gain trends in patients - could trigger tele-homecare providers automatically, helping to keep patients at home and reducing overall readmission rates.
3) Medical Resource Utilization: Outpatient practices are often burdened by a large volume of patients. The fact is, there are a fixed number of time slots available to see patients each day, and increasing the number of physicians or mid-level employees can create financial stress for practices already under pressure. This issue is particularly apparent in Emergency Departments. Small data utilization can be used to integrate diagnoses and management at home as a part of a tele-homecare network, decompressing over-utilized Emergency Departments and reducing patient wait times.
Today, we are seeing the early stages of small data being integrated into our traditional healthcare model. As greater utilization of small data is validated for consumers and FDA-cleared, our system will transform, moving us closer to a period when individuals will be able to take control of personalized healthcare.