Why didn’t I see that coming?

Bruce BroussardIn a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — Why didn’t I see that coming? — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

It’s a question we ask ourselves when we’re caught off guard by an unforeseen development, whether it relates to family, work or other matters. We think about a situation and question why we were unable to see it coming.

I asked myself this question a few years ago after I went spearfishing in Florida. After descending 20 feet into the ocean a few times, I was finally able to spear a grouper. As I was swimming to the surface, a 12-foot shark came out of nowhere and bit off about 90 percent of my spear, including the grouper. As you can probably figure out, that’s not me in the picture.

If I had seen that shark coming, I may have reacted more appropriately and gotten back to the boat sooner. Maybe I would have tried to walk on water to get to shore. In all seriousness, while I always read weather, ocean current, temperature and fishing reports, there is always the unknown data element.

Regardless, it was a terrifying experience that led to a key takeaway: It’s not what we saw coming; it’s what we didn’t see coming. And the ability to have the right data when you have to act can make a difference.

We’re living in a time where we’re generating massive amounts of data from a wide variety of new sources. Known as big data, it can improve a person’s situational awareness, and data analytics can prepare us for what we didn’t see coming in the first place.

A Growing Wave of Data

It’s no big secret we’re changing the world through the data we create, and we’re only going to create more data as the Internet of Things becomes more widespread. According to IBM, “every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.”

We’re constantly creating this data, whether it’s a video we upload to our Facebook page or a physician who updates a patient’s electronic health record. But it’s not just the tablets, laptops and smartphones we use, or the trip we make to pick up a prescription from the drug store, that is creating such data.

The market for wearables will also continue to drive this data explosion. According to one study, this market will grow to $6 billion this year. Wearable devices are going beyond the watch and activity tracker and evolving into athletic gear that can actually measure your sweat. University of California, Berkeley, researchers recently announced they had created “a flexible, wearable sensor that can collect data about multiple chemicals in body sweat.”

Gathering data from the “sweat” wearable device, and pairing that device with a smart watch or a smart phone, could create a large amount of health care data. But this leads to a question: Do we have the means to use the data, and could physicians or individuals use it to make better decisions in real time?

Its Time Has Come

People who don’t view data analytics as a differentiator have a very narrow view of the ocean. They’re only seeing what’s directly in front of them, not what’s below, to the side or even above them. When they look at the bigger picture, they’ll miss not only the threats but the opportunities.

New capabilities are bringing data analytics to all different types of professions. With the right analytics, an individual can examine the data to find the threats and opportunities, and one doesn’t have to be a sophisticated data scientist to do that.

This is ideal for those who provide clinical services. Take a primary care physician who is treating a senior who is living with multiple chronic conditions, has an abundance of prescriptions drugs, and sees specialists who are operating in siloes. If this primary care physician has the data, and also the means to analyze it, he or she can make an impact in that patient’s life.

Making it Happen

Helping physicians analyze data can enable them to make an impact in a moment of influence, defined as the point of time when a clinician can have the greatest impact on the health of the patient.

Furthermore, it’s no secret that health care is being disrupted by challenges. According to one study, “roughly 30 percent of health care spending in 2009 — around $750 billion — was wasted on unnecessary or poorly delivered services and other needless costs.”

When we harness the power of big data, and combine this with the transformative power of data analytics, we can help clinicians see what’s coming, be more prepared and possess a greater understanding to address the patient challenges. Here are five key elements for success in data analytics that relate back to my experience in the water:

1. Let data analytics help you identify opportunities that may not be immediately obvious. Physicians need to be open to what the data analytics is telling them so they can see the shark coming. When you ask a narrow question, you may get the narrow answer you’re looking for; but you might miss the broader picture – not seeing the shark coming.

2. Timing is everything when it comes to data analytics. Data analytics can help physicians act in moments of influence. When physicians can meet people where they are in their health journeys in real time, it will lead to better patient health.

3. The more data is visualized, the more insight can be achieved. A graphical representation of a patient’s clinical status and history can also paint a detailed picture. If a physician is not an experienced data analyst who tends to focus on the quantitative, he or she could benefit from data visualization tools. These tools enable physicians to take a more holistic approach to patient care. Visualizing the data in multiple ways will allow a physician to comprehensively view the underlying insights.

4. Find ways to leverage and act on big data from the expanding Internet of Things. Remote monitoring devices and other health care Internet of Things will increasingly help us understand patients and their needs better in a more timely fashion. For health plans and clinicians, it’s critical that both entities look to incorporate big data into actionable intelligence that can make a difference in moments of influence or in unexpected situations. When insights from data analytics are applied in real time, we can help millions of people better manage their chronic conditions like diabetes, and help millions of others keep from progressing to such chronic conditions.

5. A physician must have a strong, trusting relationship with the patient. Data analytics on its own is not a replacement for developing a strong, trusting patient relationship. When a physician has this trusting relationship, the patient shares more and acts more on the physician recommendations. Data analytics can help enable the physician and the patient to develop that trust, and in turn, this relationship will help implement the insights from the data analytics.

From claims data and call center conversations, to health surveys and health devices, big data will only become more commonplace in the world of health care. If we want to become better prepared, and improve our ability to act in unpredictable situations, we must apply the transformational power of data analytics.

There will always be instances where we’re caught off guard with the unexpected, like I was in the ocean. Yet the expanding, game-changing power of data analytics can help clinicians identify health challenges and corrective actions proactively, thus enabling better outcomes for their patients. We won’t always see the sharks, but data analytics can help us prepare for them, whatever form they take.

 

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