In COVID times, Big Data can be the key to fighting the pandemic and creating new approaches and solutions for the proper functioning of healthcare systems across the globe.
Healthcare systems and companies across the globe are undergoing an unprecedented paradigm shift because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic strategies were designed for the general functioning of efficient healthcare systems. Now, however, said strategies are morphing into COVID-centered plans aimed at saving lives and restructuring the entire healthcare ecosystem to allow for the flattening of the contagion curve.
Luckily, today’s technology is advanced enough to help doctors, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies gather and analyze large amounts of relevant data. Said data is necessary for monitoring, predicting, tracking, and mapping the pandemic and its behavior. All of this information (and more) is what we know as Big Data. When properly analyzed and paired with AI and Machine Learning, Big Data can prove useful for developing healthcare apps and software. For governments, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals, these tools are essential for clinical trials, patient and disease monitoring, vaccine manufacturing, raising awareness, and damage control.
What is Big Data in healthcare?
Companies have been generating and employing gigantic amounts of data for decades. The size of this data is enormous and keeps growing exponentially with time. Its volume, velocity, and variability mean it cannot be processed or analyzed using traditional methods, and without the proper tools for interpretation, these large amounts of data are useless. Enter Big Data Analytics (BDA). BDA is a process needed for the understanding and processing of these gigantic amounts of information. According to Finances Online, the world creates around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, a mind-blowing figure that is only getting bigger. Additionally, the same study found that by the end of 2020, there were 50 billion smart devices connected. All of these devices are always collecting, analyzing, and sharing large amounts of data.
For the past decade, Big Data has been crucial for the healthcare sector to function efficiently. However, in the current pandemic, Big Data usage has skyrocketed, with a projected global value of $34.27 billion by 2022! As of right now, Big Data processing is being applied to healthcare systems and pharmaceutical companies all over the world and has proven useful in the development of tools to fight pandemic and prevent chaos.
For healthcare, Big Data sources include patient medical records, mobile-health records, behavioral patterns, symptom-tracking and medical apps, social media usage, and wearable devices. Pharmaceutical research also generates a significant amount of healthcare-related data that is now more relevant than ever to public and private healthcare entities. All of this information gets applied in countless ways to control the spread of the virus ranging from tracking epidemiological behaviors to predicting and preparing for future outbreaks.
Big Data Applications in the COVID Pandemic
By now, the relevance of Big Data for the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors is undeniable. There are countless ways that the application of Big Data analytics can promote the efficient and wholesome healthcare and pharmaceutical functioning that is so crucial right now. The size of the Big Data available for mining and analysis is staggering, which is why its applications are so vast. Here are a few of the most relevant ones to counteract the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Helps with Identifying Symptoms
Since the onset of the COVID outbreak about a year ago, symptom tracking and classification have been at the crux of providing clear markers to identify the disease and its behavior. Pinpointing the difference between a COVID patient and, let’s say, a flu patient is crucial for proper treatment. Consequently, symptom differentiation is what makes Big Data so relevant in this scenario. Current public health occurrences can provide a vast amount of data for symptomatic tracking, and it is what makes or breaks the success of pandemic mitigation.
An example of Big Data application in symptom tracking is The Covid Symptom Tracker App. It is an initiative created by the Massachusetts General Hospital where users download an app, enter their relevant personal information, and report what, if any symptoms, they were experiencing on any given day. The Symptom Tracker app now has about 4.5 million users, which opens the door for doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and researchers to use that massive data hub to anticipate COVID-19 progressions and outbreaks in specific niches and areas. Patients can also volunteer for studies regarding COVID infection or vaccine follow-ups. It has also led to establishing different risk factors, identifying mutations, new symptoms, and tracking the spread of the virus. The Covid Symptom Tracker App is available for download in the US and the UK.
Provides User Mobility Data to Control Contagion
The world is somewhat lucky that the pandemic took place in the era of the social media boom. Past pandemics have missed out on the benefits of mobility tracking through devices and social media usage. The Big Data collected from these tools has been priceless for the COVID-19 pandemic control, and it will probably be useful for future disease prevention. Information collected from social media, search engines, applications, GPS, wifi usage, cell-phone data usage, and QR codes are some of the mediums from which Big Data has been collected and analyzed in several countries to map and contain COVID-19 spread.
South Korea has been one of the countries that successfully contained the coronavirus outbreak by using contact-tracing control. They have used traditional control techniques such as travel restrictions, but its leading strategy has been contact-tracing by using smart technology. South Korea’s government enforces a community surveillance system that provides Big Data from its surveillance cameras, credit card usage, and mobile-phone GPS data. They use information collected from social media activity and use their smartphone usage and GPS to pinpoint infection hot-spots. They also identify travel patterns, symptoms, and quarantine violations through app-location services and trace contact history with infected friends or relatives. South Korea is one of the countries that more rapidly flattened the epidemic curve without closing businesses or enforcing mandatory stay-at-home measures.
In the UK, contact-tracing and mobility-control apps have also helped successfully monitor outbreak progression. The NHS COVID-19 app is Bluetooth-based and has been developed to trace interactions between infected and non-infected people. Additionally, it can map out high-risk areas and alert users of possible COVID infection. The app can also identify other smartphones nearby, measure the distance between users, and alert if there is an infected user nearby. It notifies the user if and when they interacted with an infected individual in the previous days. With the app, users can also check into places with QR codes, order tests, provide health information, track symptoms, and keep a count of quarantine days. The data collected from the NHS app has provided the government with valuable insights on the diseases’ progression in the UK and has helped with preventative and containment measures.
Helps in Identifying Potential Drugs and Vaccines
The urgency for vaccine production has never been as high as it is on the current pandemic. Biomedical systems and pharmaceutical companies have been working non-stop to produce vaccines against COVID in record time. Luckily, Big Data exists on epidemics, medical records, antibodies, previous vaccine studies, drug interactions, reactions, mapping biological structures, similar diseases, and several other elements relevant to vaccine synthesis. Mining all this data has proven a blessing for the accelerated development of the current approved COVID vaccines.
One example of Big Data applications on vaccines is the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), a data-hub created in collaboration between the CDC and other healthcare organizations. The VSD monitors vaccine safety, conducts studies about adverse events, and gathers information on vaccine efficiency and tolerance. The COVID vaccines administered in the US have been subjected to these studies before FDA approval. Data sets from these studies are also available for pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals to guide future vaccines and drug commercialization.
The Data Science Institute at Columbia University is another example of Big Data usage in the pharmaceutical sector. They have launched EVQLV, a startup that promotes the quick discovery, development, and delivery of medicines and vaccines to the people that need them. At EVQLV, they use AI and Machine Learning to integrate billions of data points and create algorithms that generate, screen, and optimize therapeutic antibodies in record time.
Helps with Mapping high-risk areas
Big Data is also transforming healthcare by helping detect, monitor, and predict outbreaks or pinpoint high-risk areas where they are likely to happen. Data points from several sources, such as medical records, positive-test rates, app data, and contact-tracing, can be used to create algorithms that help identify patterns of COVID contagion. Information gathered on socioeconomic status, age, location, habits, pre-existing medical conditions, and family history can help with predictions and mapping. Data from these applications can help to demarcate zones with a high number of cases. It can also help predict future outbreaks by tracking the movement and travel of infected patients.
Mobile apps have been helping governments, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare providers in mapping outbreaks and determining which areas require attention. In Italy, for instance, a developer has created an app that gathers information about users’ whereabouts, contacts, and movements and warns them about potential risks. It requires the user to enter information about their current health condition, their daily routine, the places they visited, and the people they’ve come in contact with. It processes the information and warns them when they are in a high-risk area or with an infected person. Only competent authorities have access to this information, and it is helping in mapping high-risk zones and taking measures when needed.
Provides Easier Access to Treatment
The fact that the COVID outbreak evolved into a global pandemic, means that it has reached even the most remote and rural areas of the planet. In these areas, and with lockdowns taking place, access to healthcare services and in-person medical assistance is impossible for many. Getting diagnosed, medicated, and monitored, is a difficult journey for people without easy access to healthcare avenues. Big Data plays a crucial role in this scenario because it allows hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to access patient information remotely through wearable devices, healthcare apps, telemedicine, and electronic medical records. Data extracted from these sources prevents unnecessary hospital visits that put the patient and physician at risk of infection. The possibility for remote attention also keeps hospitals and medical staff risk-free and available to care for emergency patients only.
Big Data application in the access to treatment also helps reduce costs for both patient and healthcare providers. According to a study conducted by Top Registered Nurse, keeping people away from hospitals, and employing long-distance monitoring, can save them anywhere from $19 to $121 per visit. Savings in public transportation, health insurance premiums, gas, parking, and several other expenses are substantial for both professional and patient, which is a relief for most people in the current economic situation.
BIg Data and the Future of Healthcare
Big Data and the analytical tools needed for its interpretation are transforming and will forever keep transforming the way healthcare systems behave during crisis times. Epidemics are now better understood and managed thanks to all the available information gathered from countless data sources. Beyond COVID-19, each of these applications, and many more, will keep acting as mediums for tracking several diseases and their progression. As for now, Big Data will be the gateway to successfully preventing and (hopefully soon) stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, its proper application has proven effective in mitigating some of the most damaging aspects of the pandemic and has once again proved the importance of apps for the healthcare sector.
In Foonkie, we have over ten years of experience in developing perdurable and innovative mobile products. We specialize in healthcare apps and have always been recognized for delivering beautiful and high-quality mobile products. With the importance of healthcare apps in today’s world, our work is not more relevant than ever.