This special post is not meant to be nor stimulate a partisan discussion on the impending election. It is a piece on how we view data differently, depending upon its context. We are, one day prior to Election Day, programmed to turn on CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, or whatever in order to get bombarded with the latest poll results. We now get composite Poll of Polls results. The polls furnish us with answers to questions reminiscent of the types of events one might bet on in Las Vegas during the Super Bowl. Yet when Big Data is discussed in healthcare, it arouses feelings of the spaceships from the movie Close Encounters landing.
I have marveled listening to discussions of how voter turnout in certain counties of a state are analyzed with implications that it might affect the entire election, how the exit polls of 2008 compare to focus groups of the same district in 2012, how trends compare to static data, and how one might visualize hypothetical voting scenarios on a map or tote board. How is this reconciled with crowdsourced data derived directly and immediately from a specific patient group compared to that of the entire population or of a given geographical area being viewed as science fiction by most of the medical establishment?
Remote patient monitoring constantly collects data from a patient and might store, collate, and analyze it. It will eventually be part of quotidian medical practice but it is far from mainstream healthcare and not reimbursable except for a few limited indications. Few physicians outside of cardiology have even heard of it, yet we are all familiar with those real-time colored lines under or over the baseline in the course of a candidate’s debate retort. One need not pay attention to the entire trend but a critical spike will prompt a discussion or action by the political commentator or healthcare provider.
Why can we get voting results minutes after a polling district closes and we need to wait weeks for results of a radiology test? It is a reflection of our expectations. Are voter results more important than a medical test result? We don’t think so when the question is asked to us as an individual, but perhaps in the general (especially if the election is heated as this one is).
There is nothing magical about data. The magic is what we collect and what we do with it. Political pundits, analysts, and journalists have shown us the power of data. In fact the data has become the story itself, not the issues which the candidates are debating or the candidates themselves. What if we ‘politicize’ data for healthcare? If the data becomes available faster, seen as more important (albeit not more important than the individual patient) and put into population and specific use case contexts, it will become more useful. Happy Election Day.