How Big Data and New Technologies Are Changing Aging

Big data and new technologies are changing the healthcare industry and the aging process as we know it; and for now, that seems to be a move in the right direction.

By Devin Morrissey.

Health Care

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Currently, every industry under the sun is being altered by big data and new technologies. In healthcare, the benefits of this shift are clear, and the future of how the aging process will be impacted is marked by the benefits of the new frontier.

Big data allows healthcare professionals to understand ailments and illness with more clarity than ever before, and it provides better ways to ensure that the right treatment is administered. Technology like wearables and smart houses are allowing individuals to retain their independence longer, because these technologies can often replace human caretakers.

It’s already clear that our reliance on these new frontiers will help us navigate how we care for those who are aging, but it’s also clear that the forward momentum will only be maintained if big data and system security professionals are entering the field at a rate that ensures the demand is met.

The role of big data in healthcare

Big data is already changing the landscape of healthcare. As our ability to collect data becomes more advanced, so does our ability to apply that data in a manner that will also more applicable and reliable, with results that speak for themselves.

In Bernard Marr’s assessment for Forbes he writes, “Beyond improving profits and cutting down on wasted overhead, Big Data in healthcare is being used to predict epidemics, cure disease, improve quality of life and avoid preventable deaths. With the world’s population increasing and everyone living longer, models of treatment delivery are rapidly changing, and many of the decisions behind those changes are being driven by data.”

One such example is the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, which collects information from a wide range of sources including medical records, wearables, genetic information and even social media, and creates a comprehensive picture of an individual for tailored health care. It compares thousands of individuals, theoretically resolving the issue of inconsistent, inaccurate pictures of patient health.

That example showcases how data provides clarity for healthcare professionals into patient’s health. But it also is a step forward in the studies that look at the health of entire population samples.

As was the case when a study was done pulling the data from almost every heart disease and stroke clinic in the state of New Jersey. Over 225,000 records were compared, and researchers were able to make conclusions about how the age of those susceptible to strokes is changing.

As the information that makes up the collective health care moves to digital platforms and is better organized, those aging get better care from professionals who understand conditions more broadly than they ever have had the insight to do so before.

Smart Houses

Information means nothing for society if it isn't applied well, and smart houses are one clear picture of how data can actually be applied on a practical level.

As society tackles care for the aging, one of the primary themes is that the longer the aging can maintain their independence, the easier it will be for them to thrive and retain their sense of agency.

As the School of Gerontology at USC notes,

“While some older adults may be more comfortable with the level of assistance offered by senior living, the vast majority of the aging population prefers to continue living in their homes for as long as possible. According to the AARP, nearly 90 percent of adults over 65 want to remain in their current homes as they grow older.”

It can be difficult for the reasonably tech-savvy individual to figure out the latest gadget, but for those who have never forayed into the world it can be almost impossible. However, smart houses are on the rise, and they’re making advances quickly to target even those who don’t have past experience with the latest tech.

HoneyCo is a company that’s specifically targeting the older generation by creating home devices that store data about those living in the home, and make that information accessible to others, like family members. So if someone aging in place never comes home, or stops using the restroom, family members will be notified.

But there’s also a wealth of tech out there that is geared towards making smaller changes that will help the older individuals who need a little. Smart devices like reminder clocks and motion activated video cameras can give long distance caregivers peace of mind.

Wearable devices

Wearable devices are becoming an increasingly big player in the way that the healthcare industry manages to collect data. Companies producing the tech frequently enter into partnerships with companies who seek to transform that information into quantifiable data that can be used to better care for patients.

An overview by Arizona State University makes it clear that healthcare providers believe that wearable devices and health-oriented apps are going to help them provide better care.

They note:

  • 86 percent of healthcare professional believe they’ll understand their patients conditions better
  • 76 percent believe the data will help those specifically dealing with chronic issues
  • 96 percent of app users believe that healthcare apps do improve lives

Thus, there’s already real world evidence that supports the theory that wearable devices, and the data they collect are not just a passing fad, but rather an avenue to revolutionize the manner in which the healthcare industry operates.

The need for data analysts and information security specialists

Because this is a relatively new facet of the industry, healthcare has been one of the slowest to adopt big data. As we venture into the future, things will continue to shift in novel ways. One of the primary needs is and will continue to be data analysts and information security specialists who can actually ensure that forward motion continues, and that it does so productively and safely.

The wealth of information that big data provides is only beneficial if it can be translated in the appropriate manner. The only way for the healthcare industry to manage its growing collection of information is to also incorporate the right number of data analysts.

According to Chris Morris for CNBC, “With more and more companies using big data, the demand for data analytic specialists,—sometimes called data scientists, who know how to manage the tsunami of information, spot patterns within it and draw conclusions and insights—is nearing a frenzy.”

Additionally, it must be noted that each piece of data is connected to a human being, which means it is highly sensitive in nature. For the industry to succeed, they must manage to share data, without allowing it to fall into the wrong hands.

As Xmedius, a secure file exchange expert, explains, “Patient well-being is often at stake, so medical staff need to get sensitive information from point A to point B in a timely manner while also keeping HIPAA compliance in mind. Most healthcare organizations transmit patient health information (PHI) to several recipients on any given day, and if the process they use are less than ideal, it can slow down the workflow and take some of the focus away from providing great care.”

If PHI is obtained by individuals seeking to abuse it, then big data for healthcare is a bust. Therefore, it is a matter of pursuing the careful balance.

One can only hope that as we enter a new day and age in the healthcare industry that new advances are able to adequately make the changes they're capable of making. What bigger shame would there be than for the most innovative options in the industry to end up not being transformative, because of a failure to translate and apply them well, or to safeguard information appropriately.

Bio: Devin prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zigzag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more on Twitter: @devmorrissey.