Diving into big data

One way to teach people to swim is to toss them in the deep end of the pool. It’s not the gentlest introduction to aquatic sports, but I can see how self-preservation would be a powerful motivator to become a quick learner.

With the flood of big data growing literally by the minute, informaticists must feel like they’ve been chucked into the deep end themselves, and it’s sink-or-swim for the future of healthcare.

Luckily, a small army of talented professionals is working on making the most of healthcare data, and many of them are currently gathered in Long Beach, Calif., for the annual meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM).

J. Raymond Geis, MD, chair of SIIM, set the tone with his introduction to the 2014 Dwyer Lecture, which kicked off the meeting. “There’s a big new wave of images being generated in every clinical specialty,” he said. “From the first responders and EMTs up through primary care and the medical and surgical subspecialties.”

He also quipped that there are thousands of PACS in each facility, and they all look like smartphones. This may feel like a bit of a nightmare for IT security, but it’s the reality.

It’s true that the tidal wave of data in various formats can feel overwhelming, but the potential to improve care is equally as powerful, and I feel that will be the dominant message from this year’s conference. Stay tuned for more coverage of SIIM 2014 in the days to come.

And if you’re interested in a deeper dive into how healthcare is using big data, don’t miss the cover story in the next issue of Health Imaging.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging