Partners' CIO On Big Hope For Big Data (Healthcare IT News)

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[Written 10/17/2014 by Bernie Monegain]

Partners HealthCare chief information officer James Noga is just beginning to envision what the infrastructure for big data will look like for the Boston health system, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; there are so many variables to consider.

Noga will be discussing those possibilities at the HIMSS Media and Healthcare IT News Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum, Nov. 20-21 at the Westin Waterfront in Boston. He will be part of the panel, “Accelerating Big Data Adoption for Patient Care: Will it Take?” on Nov. 21, from 11:45-12:30 p.m.

Joining him will be Jon Bickel, MD, senior director of clinical research information technology and director of business intelligence at Boston Children’s Hospital, and David Fairchild, MD, senior vice president for clinical integration, UMass Memorial Health. Suchi Saria, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Department of Health Policy & Management at Johns Hopkins University, will serve as moderator.

Noga spoke with Healthcare IT News about how Partners HealthCare is approaching big data, some of the trends he sees in the field and about how he sees the CIO role when it comes to data.

What is he hoping to get from the panel?

“I’m hoping that we really have a discussion in terms of applying big data in the healthcare environment,” he said. “There are many opportunities, I think, that are transforming our understanding of human disease for big data. We can really use science coupled with both structured and unstructured data and really move in terms of advanced analytics.”

From predicting to prescribing
Noga views big data as an opportunity to use data not only in a predictive way – predicting readmission rates, for instance, but also in a prescriptive way.

He likes to employ a travel analogy. Drivers once got maps to travel from one point to another — they basically figured it out themselves — then they went to predictive analytics to find the best route to get from point A to point B.

“Then as you get into prescriptive analytics, it actually tells you on the way real time, an accident has happened and reroutes you,” said Noga.

“With big data you’re really talking about data that’s fast moving and perpetually occurring, actually able to intercede rather than merely advise in terms of the care of patients,” he said. “On the discovery side with genetics and genomics using external data sources, I think the possibilities of what I would call evidence-based medicine, and being able to drive that to drive better protocols on the clinical side is endless in terms of the possibilities.”

[See also: Partners sends mobile data to EMR.]

Partners’ data warehouse
Partners has developed a roadmap for big data strategic innovation and the health system has started to work with innovative companies and putting together proof of concepts and building that out. The work is occurring mostly on the research/discovery side of the house, he said.

“I would say on the operational side we’re still in sort of in the predictive analysis, building out a robust enterprise data warehouse strategy, and that isn’t necessarily a physical warehouse, but a virtual electronic data warehouse. Partners is working with Salt Lake City-based Health Catalyst. As part of its agreement, Partners will create new clinical apps atop Health Catalyst’s data warehouse platform to identify patients with congestive heart failure, for example.

[See also: Partners and Health Catalyst join forces.]

“Health Catalyst provides us an agile data warehouse approach, and set of tools, to support advanced analytics delivering strategic value to the Partners HealthCare in months rather than years,” said Noga when Partners announced its plans for the data warehouse last June.

“Once we have that where we want it to be, we’ll start talking about big data on the operational side,” he said about the warehouse more recently.

Noga told Healthcare IT News, he hesitates to use the term “big data.”

“I really think it’s more data,” he said. “So, it’s volumes of data and it’s probably some advanced analytic tools or dealing with both structured and unstructured data, and image data. So, it’s just really, I think, a continuum of the advancements of analytics.”

Some things are already changing on the big data front. Noga is anticipating the advent of a new role – the data scientist. It’s a role that is already emerging in other industries.

“Rather than having people that are skilled at analysis, there’s a whole new discipline emerging that’s called data scientists that really can take advantage of advanced analytical tools,” he said. “I think you’ll start to see the emergence of a scientist being employed in the healthcare realm. It’s already true of pharma in terms of employing data scientists – and in the academic medical centers, we’re seeing a sprinkling of it, but it really will be a new discipline that will be strategic for healthcare systems.”

The CIO’s role
Noga sees his part on the big data stage as one of monitoring the overall governance and prioritization of IT initiatives.

“It’s ensuring that if we’re going to make these investments, are we going to get the value out of those investments towards big data? I think that’s where the intersection with the CIO is,” Noga said. “Making the decisions of is it an on-premise solution, is it cloud-based, is it a hybrid of on-premise and bursting into the cloud for doing some of the what I would call the high-performance computing. I think that’s the CIO’s role.

“But the CIO isn’t necessarily the business or clinical owner of the analytic component of big data,” he added. “I think the CIO has to be the enabler of the underlying infrastructure and obviously participate in the overall strategy, but it’s really our research community and our clinical community and our business planning folks that own it in terms of what questions do we want to answer, what type of analytics do we want to employ.”

[Written 10/17/2014 by Bernie Monegain]

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