I’ve written previously about why big data is a mega investment trend. Click Here for some of those insights.
For this article, I would like to share with you a personal story about the remarkable power of big data and how it could save your life or the life of a loved one.
About 18 months ago, my daughter who had just turned 4 years old became ill. It didn’t start as anything unusual. She had a fever and was feeling tired without much of an appetite. If you are a parent, you’ll know young kids often pick up all sorts of viruses that lead to the same type of symptoms. A bit of Panadol and rest time usually fixes it.
Unfortunately, in my daughter’s case, she got worse. Actually, much worse.
Her high fever continued despite Panadol. A rash developed on her body, her joints began to ache, her lips started to bleed and her little hands and feet were starting to swell. She was in a tremendous amount of pain.
By this stage my wife and I had already taken our daughter to see her GP three times. On the third visit, her GP asked us to admit her to the children’s hospital as it wasn’t clear what was causing her illness.
After observations and tests to rule out other illnesses, the paediatricians diagnosed her with Kawasaki Disease which can be cured but must be treated within 10 days of the first symptoms occurring. Otherwise, there is a significant chance it can cause long term damage to the coronary arteries and potentially even death via a heart attack or internal bleeding.
Kawasaki Disease is relatively rare and has symptoms resembling many other more common non-life threatening childhood illnesses. It also can’t be diagnosed directly through any particular medical tests. As a result, there have been many unfortunate instances around the world where Kawasaki Disease sufferers have not been diagnosed correctly. Sadly, some with lifelong or even fatal consequences.
How is big data relevant to all of this?
Big data is the use of computing power to analyse huge amounts of data to provide useful insights. You’ll agree that doctors are smart but it isn’t fair to expect them to know about and be able to diagnose every single disease.
Imagine if a computer did know about every single disease in the world?
Not long ago, computers could only process structured data such as data in a table or spreadsheet. You could ask the computer to analyse that data but it couldn’t ever draw inferences or insights by itself. Well, that has changed. Computers with the right software can now interpret natural language texts (such as books and journals) and also draw inferences from what it reads.
A few years ago, IBM introduced the Watson big data analytics computer system to the world. In a case study of its big data analytics power, Watson (which presumably had “read” tens of thousands of pages of medical journals) was reportedly able to help doctors correctly diagnose a child with Kawasaki Disease within 24 hours with no invasive testing by analysing the symptoms using its big data knowledge base. The doctors who didn’t have use of IBM’s Watson for the same case didn’t arrive at a Kawasaki diagnosis for 6 days. For a disease that needs urgent treatment within 10 days of the symptoms first appearing, this could be the difference between life and death.
What does big data mean for healthcare for all of us?
The use of big data analytics to deliver vast improvements in healthcare is now starting to gain pace. Here are some more examples of big data at work in healthcare:
The American Cancer Society is working with IBM Watson’s computer to read countless health websites and medical research data to draw insights and advise cancer patients. The intention is to provide more personalised and better cancer patient care and treatments.
Healthcare companies such as Johnson & Johnson are using big data to significantly speed up medical drug development. Some reports suggest that what used to take Johnson & Johnson scientists years to analyse can now be done in a matter of days with IBM’s Watson. In a sign of how serious Johnson & Johnson and IBM view the future of big data in healthcare, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson recently joined IBM’s board of directors.
As for my daughter, she was very fortunate to have been correctly diagnosed and successfully treated for Kawasaki Disease within the 10 day treatment window. It was done without the use of big data analytics but she was lucky that her amazing doctors were on alert for this rare disease.
With greater use of big data analytics, I know luck will play a smaller part in the future for medical diagnosis and treatment for many diseases. Imagine a future when illnesses are not diagnosed and treated with the knowledge of just one or a few doctors but rather the knowledge of the entire medical profession around the world. This future is not too far away and is certainly something worthy of support and investment.
Yes, it might even save your life one day.
Read more about the mysterious Kawasaki Disease which to this day still has no known cause or diagnostic test Here.
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The information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider if the relevant investment is appropriate having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.