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Big Data Rx for Medicine

When a patient comes in complaining about chest pain, my medical residents—despite what the symptoms may show—typically order an EKG scan just “to ensure they did not miss anything.” Almost invariably, the EKG comes back normal. Only then do the residents feel confident enough to discharge the patient.

The refrain of not wanting to miss anything is code for not understanding the difference between risk and uncertainty. This outdated mindset is widening a gap between our doctors and the rising use of big data in healthcare.

In business, big data is touted for its opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency, as I learned in my UC Davis MBA experience and have applied in my personal and professional life. And the UC Davis Graduate School of Management invested in educating more business student in the power of data when it recently launched its Master of Science in Business Analytics program.

But in the medical field, data management has failed to make significant inroads.

While the system has made sizable investments in bringing the use of electronic health records into mainstream practice, it has not invested in the education of physicians.

The traditional medical degree is based on two years of sciences and two years of clinical rotations at a hospital or doctor’s office. But the average curriculum for quantitative analysis is scant: just one course in biostatistics. Students are left to fend for themselves and depend on chance encounters on their rotations with residents and faculty to build their quantitative analysis skills. 

Medical schools need to get the message across that analytics is a means to consistent decision making. Our current education system prioritizes one-solution answers on the MCAT and medical licensing exams. Yet physicians do not face a predetermined set of four choices in their actual practices. They must discern the nuances of the patient’s history and physical examination in order to make their clinical decisions. 

Some schools are now addressing this. The NYU School of Medicine has introduced a requirement for students to demonstrate core competencies in managing patients and data synergistically.

The next step would be to partner with business schools and health informatics programs. Both medical and business students would be exposed to each other’s’ disciplines and develop a more comprehensive approach to data in health care.

The Graduate School of Management is moving in this direction by offering two healthcare electives that address these issues: the Business of Healthcare and Project Management in Healthcare.

The school’s Sacramento MBA program is offered in the same complex as the UC Davis medical and nursing schools, allowing more opportunities for collaboration and for health care professionals to pursue a top MBA program.

Greater partnerships between business and medical schools, and healthcare practitioners, would foster the understanding that the goal is not data mining, but distilling data into actionable information