In case you missed it…Big Data

NY Magazine "The $250,000 Physical"

The controversy surrounding the NSA and government surveillance made me pay special attention to the accompanying wave of news coverage about Big Data and data mining.

New York Magazine’s Best Doctors Issue featured a story about MetaMed, a company introducing new information systems to our health care. MetaMed representatives Skype with patients about their medical history, do blood tests, and genetic profiles eventually generating a full report that may recommend tweaks in medication or specialists to see. It’s cofounder, Michael Vassar says “Almost all of the health care that people get is going to be done – hopefully- by algorithms within a decade or two.”

NY Times "Big Data"

The New York Times published a Special Section on Big Data last week which laid out some interesting trends in how people are using Big Data. CVS Caremark collected data about customers habits and found that their best shoppers were ones with chronic conditions. By targeting those customers who are prescribed medication for 1-2 years but stopped refilling after just a few months, CVS filled a revenue gap they had previously overlooked.

Political camps use microtargeting to isolate voter groups and send tailored messages based on family status, age, education, etc.. Such methods helped Obama’s team earn the title of “most technologically advanced campaign in American history.” Sunday’s New York Times Magazine takes a more in depth look at how Obama’s data crunchers are now taking their skills corporate.

The cover image from the NY Times  is from Jonathan Harris’ We Feel Fine project. Blogs were screened for the words “I feel..” or “I am feeling…” and the artist created beautiful infographics according to positive and negative sentiments. This is a reminder that data may be impersonal but comes from people (with feelings) who can benefit or be taken advantage of depending on which direction Big Data heads.

I’m reminded by these articles that MLS holders are just a few of the many people using large datasets. I hope that there can be a good exchange of experience and skills between these different data disciplines. As big data expands, remember this tidbit from Jeffrey Hammerbacher, one of the field’s pioneers, “Just because you can’t measure it easily doesn’t mean it’s not important.”



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2 thoughts on “In case you missed it…Big Data

  1. Bacon says:

    This is really interesting–especially the medical stuff. I wonder what the American Medical Association response will be to this kind of thing. The AMA has a long history of protecting the labor market for MDs (restricting med school admissions to keep wages up, for example…opposing any and all public coverage or provision of medical care, for another example…opposing looser regulations on mid-level primary care providers like nurse practitioners, for yet another example). I doubt they’ll be pleased with the possibility that algorithms could infringe on their activities.

    On a sort-of-related note, a friend of mine is generally concerned with “Big Data” as it relates to targeted search results because he doesn’t like the way it puts people into their own niches based on what the algorithm thinks of them. The abundance of information and information processing capacity could (and probably already does) wind up restricting what we see and learn about. (To circumvent the targeting he uses for searches…)

  2. Natalie says:

    The issue of big data in medicine definitely brings to mind logistical and ethical questions. I will keep an ear out for any developments. Speaking of medical ethics, this story about doctors being influenced by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe pricier brand-name drugs might interest you.

    Also this seems to take an interesting look at how health care companies are collecting data from patients and selling it to pharmaceutical companies. I haven’t read the full article yet, so please tell me if it’s bogus:

    Thanks for continuing the conversation!

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