We look at how big data can be used in the life science and healthcare sectors, and how it affects professionals in these industries.

What is big data?

Big data is extremely large structured or unstructured data which is beyond the ability of traditionally used software and hardware to capture and process. Big data is commonly defined on the basis of the ‘3Vs’, first defined by Gartner:

  • Volume: the amount and size of the data set.
  • Variety: the multiple types of data, e.g. text, images, audio, videos, etc.
  • Velocity: the speed at which the data can be produced and processed.

The key for businesses is not just the collection and processing of big data, but finding patterns, understanding them, and making meaningful decisions as a result. Being able to deal with big data also puts big demands on a company’s computing infrastructure, as quickly processing huge volumes and varieties of data places strains on servers that aren’t capable of such tasks.

How can it be used in the Life Science and Healthcare industries?

Companies in the life sciences arena have been adopting big data due to the large amounts of health data that is created by modern equipment and devices. Even small personal devices can create large amounts of data.

There are numerous types of healthcare data available, including:

  • Patient records
  • Laboratory data
  • Pharmacy data
  • Healthcare insurance data
  • Written research data
  • Doctor order data
  • Machine/sensor data
  • Social media data

How can using big data techniques enhance the Life Science and Healthcare sector?

  • Match treatments with outcomes
  • Predict patients at risk
  • Historical data to predict outcomes
  • Execute gene sequencing more efficiently
  • Monitor and analyse wearable data
  • Analyse disease patterns and improve responses
  • Better predict virus evolution
  • Provide personalised medicine

Life Science companies currently utilising big data analytics are achieving lower costs, improved care levels, and most importantly saving lives. Gaining insights from their data, these companies can develop more effective diagnoses and treatments for patients across the world.

Future trends

Data in Life Sciences and Healthcare is expected to grow in the coming years, with technologies currently used to collect and analyse data needing to improve to keep up with the rapid pace of bigger volume and variety of data.

Big data is going to become even more important with the increase in wearable health technology. An incredibly diverse set of data will be produced from these devices, so companies that have the ability to collate and analyse these huge volumes of data will have the competitive advantage.

A number of challenges must be overcome however: - Privacy, security and governance are things that need to be taken seriously for any organisation dealing with any kinds of data, not least the volume and variety of big data. Natuarually the Life Science and Healthcare industry must be particularly sensitive to this, given the nature of the data that they are processing. 

What does it mean for professionals?

Although dedicated Data Scientists often work with businesses to develop big data strategies, other positions in the Life Science and Healthcare sectors will be effected by the increase in data collection and use. People whose professions aren’t directly related to data can still benefit from learning about the overarching principles and analytical techniques that are becoming increasingly used in the commercial world, which may give them the competitive edge over other candidates when going through a recruitment process.