In healthcare we have landed on the moon many times with small steps for man and giant leaps for mankind. Data is the next big Neil Armstrong moment for healthcare!

In 1853, Florence Nightingale started what we know today as the modern profession of nursing. Interestingly she also helped popularise the graphical presentation of statistical data. Was this the initial lunar landing for data in healthcare?

In 1895, Wilhelm Rontgen’s invention of the x-ray made a giant leap forward in the history of medicine. For the first time ever, the inner workings of the body could be made visible without having to cut into the flesh of a patient.

Another 40 years on in the late 1920s, Penicillin was discovered by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming, revolutionising the medical treatment of infections.

If one were to ask Christian Bernard or Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer, suffering from diabetes and incurable heart disease if this 40 year cycle of giant leaps in healthcare are anything to go by and you will get a resounding yes. After all Bernard was to revolutionise the clinical consideration of the art of possible with the first ever heart transplant which benefited Mr. Washkansky who bravely stepped up as the first recipient in the world.

Bringing modern computing into the 40 year cycle of healthcare has been more of a challenge it would seem; advances  in the home PC were transformational during the 80’s and 90’s in the way we live our lives and transact our work and yet are still heading towards that same exponential change for healthcare.

40 years on brings us to today [and the next few years]. We are ready for the next small step for man and giant leap in healthcare.  In today’s modern healthcare system we continue to have incremental improvements and technological advances that have measurable benefits to society, bringing us into a healthier state.  But it is data and its use that will bring about the next giant leap forward.

The use of data is on the brink of taking electronic medical records, genetic information, and wearable data and transforming it into information that will support decision making and the development of new technologies that will change the way we care for our patients.

Here in Ireland we speak about our ‘grand ambition’ to allow the patient to truly control their health data by 2020.

Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University, says with the use of information and data; “we will move from reactive care to immediate, proactive prevention and remediation, from experience-based medicine to evidence-based medicine, and to augment disease-centred models with patient-centred models.”

Imagine a time when a graduate doctor will not only have the six years medical training and their immediate supervisor’s knowledge at their disposal to treat a patient but the capabilities from millions of lines of data to support diagnostic decision making, the art of the possible with the phenomenon we call cognitive computing. The transformation of the data to information will provide suggested diagnosis based on test results, information gleaned from the patient but may also prompt further questions or tests that might aid in a refined diagnosis.

Imagine a time where a patient can provide a full medical history to any healthcare practitioner across the globe by simply allowing access to their health record stored in the cloud. Where a patient can see who has viewed and added to their record anywhere and at any time.

We don’t need to imagine these scenarios, early adopters are already realising the bright future data is providing in healthcare.

Kaiser Permanente has fully implemented a new computer system, HealthConnect, to ensure data exchange across all medical facilities and promote the use of electronic health records. The integrated system has improved outcomes in cardiovascular disease and achieved an estimated $1 billion in savings from reduced consultations and lab tests.

Blue Shield of California, in partnership with NantHealth, is improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes by developing an integrated technology system that will allow doctors, hospitals, and health planers to deliver evidence-based care that is more coordinated and personalised. This will help improve performance in a number of areas, including prevention and care coordination. (The big-data revolution in US health care: Accelerating value and innovation Basel Kayyali and David Knott. )

The future is bright and the future of healthcare is data. The future of patient care in Ireland is certainly bright as we develop Information Services and the eHealthIreland structures to truly turn data in the system into information that can, with care be used to change the way in which care is delivered to the patient and the population of Ireland.