When “Big Data” is Too Much Data
Courtesy David M. Denton, Commentary, InformationWeek.com
Technology isn’t enough to improve healthcare. Doctors must be able to distinguish between valuable data and information overload.
As a doctor, I know the value of information, but I also know what’s worse than not enough information: misinformation or too much information. In this information age, we seem to have plenty of both.
No matter what you think or believe, you can find proof of it on the Internet. You can also find a million and one ways to decorate your living room, making it overwhelmingly impossible to decide which ideas to use. The Internet is great at quenching our attention deficits by providing novelty at every click. Indeed, we can spend hours reading, watching, listening, or commenting without accomplishing anything at all. On the other hand, we get access to excellent resources and minds, beyond what was possible in a non-connected world.
Modern medicine also struggles with managing information. In our lust for data, we have created systems that store every keystroke, scan, or import, in a limitless cloud. Discrimination is no longer necessary. The pertinent and the frivolous are stored side by side. We no longer have data; we have “big data.” This allows the detection of trends and patterns that could never be identified with our smaller data sets. We are just beginning to understand its power.
Interestingly, however, while computers are great at sorting through data quickly and efficiently, humans aren’t. In fact, “more,” often clogs our ability to discern and decide. Additionally, computers can’t distinguish good data from bad data. At present, humans are still required to use the data to make decisions and care for patients. Until we have computers that can form therapeutic alliances, be compassionate, diagnose conditions, and provide and coordinate reasonable treatments, we are still dependent on fallible biologic beings to provide our medical care.
One of the hopes of electronic health records (EHRs) is that they will revolutionize medicine by collecting information that can be used to improve how we provide care. Getting good data from EHRs can occur if good data is input. This doesn’t always happen. To see patients; document encounters; enter smoking status; create coded problems lists; update medication lists; e-prescribe medications; order tests; find, open, and review multiple prior notes; schedule follow-up appointments; search for SNOWMED codes, search for ICD-9 codes, and find CPT codes to bill encounters (tasks previously delegated to a number of people); and compassionately interact with patients, providers have to take shortcuts.