What are some of the challenges of big data, and how can we overcome these?

Although countless case studies show the huge benefits of harnessing the power of analytics in healthcare, there is still a certain level of skepticism around the use of data. It’s important to work out where this comes from, and how we can challenge certain presumptions through education and information outreach.

Big data has something of a bad rep, perhaps due to social media companies harnessing the power of it to monitor the actions of unsuspecting users before trying to sell products to them, or interfering with democratic elections. It’s understandable that people have grown a little suspicious, with a subconscious knee-jerk response kicking in as soon as you hear the word “data analytics”. Whilst many of these apprehensions have solid reasoning behind them, the reality is that data analytics – when used for the right reasons – has the potential to push forward huge improvements in our everyday lives.

This is more prudent in the healthcare industry than in many others, with patient data analytics holding highly valuable information that might lead to a better understanding of certain conditions at the very least, and support medical breakthroughs in a best-case scenario. Many people hold the rather dramatic view that data analysts are watching their every move online, wanting to know what they had for breakfast – but this could not be further from the truth.

Data analysts aren’t really fussed about the details of your day-to-day life – they’re only interested in the information that matters. This data is anonymized, removing any connection to an individual person so the data analysts can focus on what matters most: understanding how patients feel about their current treatment, and making improvements to the medication or therapy based on this new information.

Gaining trust might arguably be the biggest challenge for big data – and we understand this. In the past, many industries have taken advantage of social media users for slightly unsavory purposes. Generally speaking, the healthcare industry, on the other hand, is interested in improving the quality of life for patients in the real world by developing effective and reliable drugs, and social listening and natural language processing are some of the best ways to do this.

There’s a lot of work to do when it comes to data analytics being accepted more in wider society – and rightly so. Our collective goal is to see actual, tangible improvements in the lives of patients, and taking their thoughts and opinions seriously is a good start.

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