Putting moves on Big Data

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Claire Gillis
Claire Gillis

In healthcare, Big Data is like college sex: everybody is talking about it, everybody thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it. The virtual reality is; they're not. Like boastful freshmen, much of the sector has yet to reach first base. Yet in almost every other market, Big Data penetration is much more mature. So what gives? It's time to make healthcare data Big and, for the sake of patients, sexy.

First off, it's not all about size. It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it that matters. And as we all know, experience counts. Take Amazon. A behemoth of consumer Big Data, Amazon has taken customer intimacy to unparalleled levels; it examines every transaction and behavioral pattern to personalize user experience. It plays with multiple content partners to pull information from diverse sources to support the purchasing journey. And it mates with other media to promote relevant products across multiple channels and multiple devices. It's a voyeuristic approach, but it's a turn-on for consumers, who are willing to share their most private details as a trade-off for empowerment.

And it's not just Amazon. Banks, cellphone providers—you name it—are all optimizing over-sized reserves of data to build intelligence dossiers on their customers and crafting targeted messaging to arouse their attention. We're all complicit in it and, where it works, we love it. Big Data is here; so why is it still virgin territory for healthcare? The answer: complex relationships.

There's a ménage à trois at the center of healthcare Big Data; payers, pharma and patients all want a slice of the action. Patients want better access to quality treatments, but at lower cost. Payers want to cut expenditure and share risk. Pharma wants to improve customer engagement to develop value propositions that allow premium priced products. Everybody wants the best information to make evidence-based decisions.

But a threesome can bring danger—and the rules of engagement often keep healthcare from going all the way. Healthcare is highly regulated—in terms of drug utilization, patient privacy and medical communications. Engagement is also imbalanced; physicians hold the intellectual upper-hand, payers the purse strings and patients hold onto the hope they'll get the best treatment.

Closing the deal takes a complex purchasing process. With Amazon, customers put items in their basket and money flows from buyer to vendor. In healthcare, multiple parties are involved in the transaction.

But healthcare's Amazon-ization has to happen fast. The ACA, along with sites like health.org and vitals.com, is opening the door to consumers understanding the cost of care. Consumers will know how to buy health insurance as astutely as they purchase cars—and the imbalance in healthcare engagement will shift toward patients. In the ménage à trois, after years of fumbling around Big Data, it could be the consumer who makes the first move. Unless industry seizes the initiative.


Worried? Then consider a more hardcore thought; never rule out a foursome. In every relationship, there's room for another, more attractive, suitor. Could Big Data experts like Amazon emerge as healthcare disruptors, giving consumers what they want, when they need it – based on understanding their every move? It's time for healthcare to grab Big Data by the balls, before someone bigger and more experienced climbs into bed and goes all the way.

Claire Gillis is CEO of WG Consulting.

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