Pediatrics is a widespread and well-established specialty in health care. However, because parents are making health care decisions for the children, it faces specific challenges that separate it from other areas of health care and could stand to benefit immensely from big data applicationsIn November, a panel of experts at the The Global Pediatric Innovation Summit in Boston assembled to discuss just that, and how big data could shape the future of pediatric care.
“Insofar as we’re able to identify pain points in the care process and bring the right people into the fold so they can understand the issues that the family is going through, in the best interest of the patient, of the child, that’s really where the data comes in handy,” said Jackson Wilkinson, the founder, president and head of product and engineering at Kinsights, Inc. Kinsights is an advice-sharing network for parents in San Francisco.
Big data also helps parents make decisions for children suffering from rare or highly complex diseases. In a specific case, the use of big data analytics was able to help clinicians at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in the neonatal intensive care unit, where the patients are unable to speak for themselves. Tod Davis, the manager of business intelligence at the hospital, looked at vital signs data for patients with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition that can lead to vision loss or blindness in premature babies.
The team hoped to improve the treatment process for the condition, and through their analysis of the data, they found how the eye exam cause heart rates, respiratory rates, pulses and oxygen saturation to skyrocket. This prompted the clinicians in the NICU to take extra steps to ease psychological stress in their patients. While this type of data has proved to be useful, not many hospitals store it or, if they do, don’t hold onto the information for very long, Davis explained.
There are challenges to acknowledge, though. Matt Hall, the director and principal biostatistician at Children’s Hospital Association, explains that big data’s own problems of standardization, infrastructure and staffing are compounded by the addition of issues unique to pediatrics and health care, like questions of data ownership and privacy as well as small volumes of patients with the rare medical conditions that would need this kind of data. Despite these issues, big data still seems to have a bright future in pediatrics. Children’s Hospital cites benefits such as cost savings up to $300 billion a year, streamlined billing processes and, of course, higher quality care.