Big Data and Medical Imaging

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By Hjalmer Danielson 

December 2013—Big Data is a buzz term that you will be seeing a lot of over the next few years as your corporate boardroom discusses it and healthcare vendors incorporate it into their business development activities. Your health system will need to understand the term and determine how it applies to your organizational HIT vision and patient care initiatives. NASA researchers coined the term in 1967 to describe the enormous amount of data being generated by supercomputers. It has evolved to include all data streaming from various sources: cell phones, mobile devices, satellites, Google, Amazon, Twitter, and including the waves of patterns flowing within these data streams.

The impact of Big Data may be profound and medical imaging’s data assets will have far reaching implications as healthcare tracks, manages, utilizes, and reports relevant patient information.  Once you have survived the avalanche of articles and product pitches focused on healthcare/patient Big Data transformation, the daunting task is to determine how you will strategically collect, store, and safeguard this data, and then make it actionable. Data collected can require a tremendous amount of resource time and effort and then just sit idle as costs soar to maintain it in a viable storage archive. Or it can be ‘actionable data’ that when used correctly allows your organization the opportunity to:

– Improve personal health

– Utilized for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment

– Spot early warning signs and mobilize resources to proactively address care

– Increase interoperability and interconnectivity of healthcare (ie, health information exchanges)

– Leverage the technology for enhanced patient care via mHealth, telemedicine, and emerging self-tracking or home devices

With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Ensuring patient data privacy and security is a significant challenge for any healthcare organization seeking to comply with new Omnibus HIPAA rules. Any individual or organization that accesses, uses, or discloses Protected Health Information (PHI) must comply, including employees, physicians, vendors/business associates, and other covered entities. Consider further that HIPAA compliance for data (small or big) must cover the following systems, processes, and policies:

–       Registration systems

–       Patient portals

–       Patient financial systems

–       Electronic medical records

–       E-prescribing

–       Business associate/vendor contracts

–       Educate workforce

–       Self-assessments and audits

–       Notice of Privacy Practice

An Example of Big Data for the Big Picture

One of the most compelling examples of big data utilization and communication in healthcare comes from Professor of International Health, Hans Rosling. In his short video  he animates an enormous amount of health data from the past 200 years to demonstrate the correlation between life expectancy and wealth around the world. The visual depiction of how different events throughout history affected this correlation (eg, the Industrial Revolution, World Wars I and II, countries in Asia and Africa gaining their independence, etc.) is powerful and makes this huge amount of data more accessible and easily understandable. Professor Rosling suggests that the trends seen in this data can even be used to predict future health improvements! Think of how this might be applied to building your medical imaging vision and how it might change strategies as you consider moving forward.

Hjalmer Danielson is a director at Ascendian Healthcare Consulting and a frequent contributor to the subject of Health Information Technology. You may contact him directly at or visit the Ascendian website for more information at

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