Most conversations around big data in healthcare center on improving patient care or sharpening the business. We’ve also discussed, in this blog at least, how to use big data to spur innovation and adapt to disruption. But there’s another key use that rarely comes up: predicting future health crises.
Yes, healthcare organizations should be using big data right now to predict and plan for massive health threats from climate change.
No matter how good your disaster planning drills are, your preparedness training and plans will almost certainly fail in the face of climate change driven challenges that are headed your way.
Climate change: Where’s the data?
Most of the world is in agreement that climate change presents the greatest health threat known to mankind. Only the U.S. is still quibbling about it, not that the threat exists but rather if it’s caused by man and if it’s really that big a threat.
It’s really that big a threat.
And it isn’t subject to political whim or industries’ self-interests.
Nonetheless, climate change deniers carry on as though opinion and profit matters. Commonly they try to discount the science saying things like “there’s no scientific consensus” and “the data is incomplete or wrong.”
The data is not incomplete. The data is not wrong.
You can even download the data for free and run your own analysis if you wish to confirm that. You will come to the same conclusion.
You may want to start by analyzing the totally free Landsat data on Amazon Web Services (AWS). If you’re unsure how to access and use this data set, start by reading this helpful guide and follow the instructions.
In case you are not familiar with Landsat, it is an U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA program that creates moderate-resolution satellite imagery of all land on Earth every 16 days. Landsat is globally considered the “gold standard of natural resource satellite imagery” and is used by agriculture, cartography, geology, forestry, regional planning, surveillance, education, and other sectors for climate change research and earth studies. You can see more details on the project and various satellite data capabilities on the Landsat government website.
Want more climate change data for free? You’ll find lots of climate data sets on data.gov and data, summaries and tools at The National Center for Atmospheric Research and on the Global Change Master Directory at NASA in the U.S. You can also find open data resources at The World Bank.
You want even more free data? Google “climate change data sets.” You’ll find pages and pages of listings. Take your pick and run the analysis.
Climate change is real and it will pose extreme challenges for healthcare institutions in short order.
Why healthcare must use big data to prepare for climate change fueled disasters now
We in healthcare like to think that we’re ready for anything and that every single one of us will stay on the frontlines and work until the disaster abates or we drop dead trying.
But that is fantasy.
For a case in point of the reality in my statement, please read my earlier post “A Page for the Ebola Playbook: Using Big Data to Adapt to New Shifts in Healthcare Delivery” wherein I quote an emergency medicine physician who penned an interesting piece and posted it on LinkedIn admitting that he was unsure whether he or any of the hospital staff would show up for an extreme and extended healthcare crisis. Do not judge him out of hand. Instead, give careful thought to what he says and decide then if your staff, and maybe yourself, would come to the same bridge and think twice before crossing it.
Now, if that possibility exists with a crisis such as a localized outbreak of Ebola, what then would be the response in resources and staff to a permanent worldwide crisis of epic proportions?
There is somewhere we can look now for clues to how such a situation would look and work.
Currently, Venezuela is experiencing a complete healthcare meltdown. Not because it is a socialized medicine system but because of corruption. Nonetheless, the lack of access to resources will play out the same in a climate change driven crisis.
You can read all about the healthcare horrors in Venezuela in this Wall Street Journal article. In essence, people are dying from a lack of antibiotics and other medicines such as insulin as well as medical parts like artificial heart valves and stints. In a connected world, medicine and medical equipment and supplies are shipped in from everywhere. Local resources, no matter where you are located, are limited. The result when you can’t replenish supplies is that people die from easily treatable conditions.
Now add to that the influx of new diseases or old ones in places where they didn’t previously exist, all thanks to climate change. And overcrowding and hygiene problems as rising water forces more people inland. Deserts where there used to be forests and vice versa. Diminishing water and food supplies will be common too.
All told, it’s not a pretty picture. And in the middle of all that are the healthcare providers who will also be suffering.
Big data can help you predict changes in your area and the timelines you can expect them on. You can download climate change data and do the analyses yourself or consult with climate change experts who can do the analysis for you.
What will you learn? Exactly what to expect and when. You can then choose your future investments accordingly so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to deal with it.
And you will have to deal with it whether you prepared for it or not.
On the immediate upside, big data can also help you up your game in disaster preparedness plans you have in place now for more routine health crises. In my earlier post cited and linked to above, I mentioned one possibility of decentralizing care delivery and incorporating drones to stem disease spread and relieve some of the burden on healthcare workers. I’m sure you’ll think of your own ideas. Use big data to test those ideas and predict the outcome before you proceed with any new plans or tweaks to your existing disaster plans.
The world of healthcare is changing on many fronts and very quickly. Big data is your best hope for addressing everything at once and mastering them all.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.