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Wireless Big Data in the Cloud

May 2, 2012

I was chatting with a friend the other day about  how to get people’s attention in this information-overload age, and we decided that the use of buzz words was a critical component of success.  So I decided to test this catchy title and see if it leads to any more reader traffic than I usually get.

Really, I’m not messing with you.  There is something to the idea of buzz word use in our search engine optimized world, but as I reflected on these three technology trends, I thought it worth pausing for a moment to reflect on just how game-changing each is for those of us in the connected health space.


Of all the top-of-the-hype-cycle buzz words in health care right now, mobile tops the list.  And while we probably can’t cure cancer, reverse aging and find the true meaning of life with mobile technology, it really has revolutionized the world of healthcare.

The key features that are so exciting are the miniaturized computing capabilities in mobile devices combined with their always on, always connected state.  Those of us who grew up espousing the vision of telehealth now have no excuse (from a technology perspective anyway).  We can videoconference from our iPads over 4G networks, or use our smartphones as data-collection hubs for remotely monitored sensor data about our patients.  We can message our patients in the moment when it’s most needed.  With mobile technology, we have the infrastructure to deliver on the promise of connected health: using objective information derived from patients to provide insights that lead to improved self-care, as well as the opportunity to deliver care in the moment or continuously.  Both of these strategies have been shown to improve quality and lower costs, particularly when applied to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure.

Big Data

This is the newest of our buzz words, but the healthcare implications are huge and exciting.  The term Big Data is a colloquialism referring to the power of collecting and analyzing large data sets.  The companies that provide storage and super-computing services are salivating at the opportunities to bring this technology to healthcare.

Three trends suggest that they are sniffing at a real opportunity:

  • The first is the decreasing cost of genetic sequencing (now around $1000 and falling fast) combined with the exciting results we’ve seen when genetic information has been used to target therapeutic interventions in certain cancers.  The era of personalized medicine is near at hand. The computational power and storage needed to make genetic mapping part of an individual’s standard health information (the same way we all know our cholesterol level today) are staggering.  But the precision that genetic data affords will allow us to diagnose, prognosticate and recommend therapeutic interventions as never before.
  • The second trend is the rise in consumer connected health and its intersection with the power of wireless.  Personal health measurement devices abound (FitBit, Withings, Zeo, etc.), each making their data easily available via wireless networking.  The tendency is to publish open APIs so the data from these devices can be captured and analyzed, yielding insights into consumer behavior. This is the cornerstone of the improved self-care value proposition of connected health.  This data collection and sharing will enable us to create phenotypic maps that are as unique and precise as the genotypic maps noted above.  Applying these data sets on individual and population levels represents an enormous opportunity for the Big Data folks.
  • The third trend is the movement of bundled provider payment or global payments, otherwise known as the movement to Accountable Care.  Providers are waking up to the notion that organizations need to create highly individualized/segmented programs and interventions that enable efficient, but compassionate care and promote patient affinity and loyalty.  Once again, the opportunity here for data storage and analytics is huge.

The Cloud

Of all of our overused buzz words, this one seems to be the most ubiquitous in consumer advertising these days (possibly tied with mobile).  What does the Cloud really mean and what are the implications for healthcare?  Simply put, Cloud computing involves giant banks of connected computers that can handle multiple software applications and data storage at once.  Up until recently, sharing software applications or storing data was inefficient and had several downsides. Then, a few years back, someone developed software that would enable you to spread your application and storage across many networked devices.  This led to much more efficient computing.  All servers are efficient, operating at capacity. If an organization needs more computing power, it’s easy to immediately order more. Lastly if one computer breaks no one really notices because the load is balanced by others.

The implications for healthcare?  Both the power of mobile and the power of Big Data could not be achieved without the added innovation of cloud computing.  Storage of information in the cloud and access on  mobile devices allows for those devices to truly be windows into the world of information (ever notice how ‘dumb’ your iPad seems when it’s not connected to the Internet?).  All of that Big Data is stored in the Cloud.  These three innovations rely on one another for success.

It’s an exciting time.  Although the buzz word Bingo surrounding these three concepts is slightly annoying, the applications for healthcare are truly amazing.  Healthcare needs to be revolutionized and these technologies provide a critical substrate.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Sonnier permalink
    May 2, 2012 9:04 pm


    Great meta-analysis of the convergence of digital technologies (genomics inclusive, i.e. A, C, G, T) with consumer health and clinical healthcare. I call it Digital Health, yet another buzz word. 🙂

    See you in Oct at the Connected Health Symposium.

    Paul Sonnier

    Founder, 10,000+ member Digital Health group on LinkedIn

  2. May 2, 2012 10:37 pm


    A superb blog and delighted to pass along to help get some naysayers down from their cloudy positions.

  3. May 3, 2012 3:51 am

    Hi Joe, – your ‘buzz-word bingo’ is not really that annoying – it underlines how digital infrastructure investments are hugely important to just about everything else.

    Here in the UK the NextGen team have recognised the importance of this cross-sector approach in financing and policy for digital infrastructure – and the need to get more of a demand-side drive to shake up the telecoms/networking industry.

    A practical example is NG Connected – the notion that in whatever sector we are all ‘Connect Causes’ and reliant on a vastly better digital infrastructure.

    We read all the time about the economic deficit but we would all agree that there are deficits in health, in the environment and in digital infrastructure.

    Dealing with the latter seems to many of us to be a prerequisite for making progress in all the others – but isn’t that just what Obama was saying in his inaugural address?

    My comment (1st para) back in 2009 refers.

    So, Joe, grieve for the silo-ed souls whose horizons are delimited by their tags – but rejoice that there is a bigger picture for those of us who care to look at things sideways!

    Best wishes

    David Brunnen

    • May 3, 2012 10:12 am

      Thanks, David. I very much appreciate the European perspective

  4. Alex Pelletier permalink
    May 3, 2012 2:42 pm

    Joe- I thought you might find this interesting related to your post.
    the app store model for dna apps- (using Amazon Cloud services)
    “This open platform will allow these software developers to make apps for scientific customers who want to sort and quantify reams of DNA data”

  5. May 7, 2012 9:29 am

    Great post Joe!
    While buzzwords are annoying at the outset I find solace in the fact that they will become a normal part of our language soon. These 3 emerging trends are a critical part of the digitization of health that will enable a long overdue consumer centered model!
    Take care

    • May 23, 2012 12:28 pm

      This is my first time responding to your blog, Joe. I agree with Paulo on this. The consumer/patient model will be critical. We will be able to make the connections and closse the loop with the technology, but we are still faced with how to get behavioral impact into the system. How do we account for the human side of this- reluctance for patients to follow through…people being too busy to make this part of every day regimen…patients sabatoging their own wellness..

    • May 23, 2012 2:55 pm

      The answer lies I the way we utilize connected health feedback loops and the psychology of motivation to engage consumers/patients

  6. May 7, 2012 5:41 pm

    well stated. thanks for your comments!

  7. May 9, 2012 6:18 pm

    The only one I find annoying is “the Cloud,” which most people use when they really just mean “remote hosted storage.” Big cliche at our new HIE these days, “the Cloud.”

  8. May 13, 2012 5:06 am

    I like the story David Brunnen shares in his second link, “what got through to Sid and no doubt millions of others was the sense that we are working together – and you’re part of it even if you’re coming up to 102 (years old).”

    But buzzwords like “Wireless,” “Big Data,” “Cloud” would only interest those already interested in technology. Whose attention do you want to subscribe to your blog?

    • May 13, 2012 12:22 pm

      Gosh, I don’t know. I remember a Microsoft commercial a year or so back that was shown on primetime TV where the ‘tag line’ was ‘to the cloud..”. Apple certainly wants every day consumers to understand and use iCloud.

      I’m not sure its only techies.

  9. May 13, 2012 6:41 pm

    Happy Mother’s Day! – jumping on “Mother’s Day” in a similar way as your thought to use these particular “buzzwords,” P&G knocks yet another one out of the park with this beautiful ad –

    I think it’s a great ad & have helped it go viral I’m sure. I love their universal concept of motherhood, global use of culture and languages, but am less sure about the notion that everyone becomes an Olympian for moms to be proud, although I completely see the advantage of using this to gel together a quick video concept.

    I’ll admit I was forwarded this video for Mother’s Day, I didn’t drop the words into a search engine, but what they accomplish is similar to what you hope to gain, to capture someone’s attention with what is relevant contextually to them.

    In my humble opinion, buzzwords like “Wireless,” “Big Data,” and “Cloud” are relevant to people already engaged there, if like P&G, mothers are the audience, they were wise to use “Mother’s Day” to draw in that audience.

    I love your posts as they make me think and I have interest in the intersection of technology, health and engagement. Although I have an interest in technology, I’m not an IT professional so it’s true that buzzwords like these wouldn’t just draw in techies but contextually because they come from you and the Center for Connected Health, you would be of interest to more folks like me, interested in this particular intersection.

    Nevertheless, I think if you are looking at everyday consumers, for example candidates for genomic testing due to obesity, these buzzwords might not draw their attention, unless they have an interest in using a Fitbit or other health-technology device already, so they are already somewhat switched on to these buzzwords. I’m less sure that using the buzzwords with people who aren’t already somewhat interested in these topics would actually lead to new attention because these individuals don’t know there is something to gain in being involved.

    But then again, there was Sid at 102, who seemed to understand that technology has the power to connect us and liked to tune in and be a participant. ; )

    • May 13, 2012 7:22 pm

      thanks for your lengthy, thoughtful comment. i very much appreciate the feedback. And the kind words.

  10. May 23, 2012 12:27 pm

    Buzzwords are great at communicating a message. The challenge with buzzwords is that they’re only buzzwords if you’re knee deep in this stuff. For the rest of the world, they rarely hear them and so they communicate the message we want. It’s just those of us that live, breathe, eat, sleep health IT that have to deal with the minor annoyance.

  11. May 23, 2012 2:54 pm

    Buzzwords come and go. Of the three you identified, “Big Data” seems like the one that will drop first — it hasn’t caught on outside industry. Whereas, “Wireless” and “Cloud” have made the leap into the common vernacular. These buzzwords often emerge from an organizations’ deliberate effort to create a category for the betterment of healthcare, IT, consumers, society in general. For example, BAM Labs firmly believes that the bed is the ultimate platform for capturing consistent, individualized health information — we call this the “Smart Bed”. Someday, a smart bed will be under every body. In the meantime, more buzzwords will emerge and we can all have fun debating their value.
    See you in October,

  12. May 23, 2012 7:07 pm

    I was quite intrigued by the verbal AND virtual linkages between your three increasingly important buzz concepts in our world of cHealth. Wireless has advanced our access to data and communication to real time— all the time. And with all of this Big Data being stored and managed in the Cloud, the legal and ethical issues of confidentiality and appropriate access and use of personal data will become one of our biggest challenges moving forward don’t you think?

    • May 23, 2012 8:50 pm

      I don’t know if I’d say ‘biggest’, but yes, this will be a big challenge

  13. May 30, 2012 7:24 am

    Great post Joe.
    Here is Australia we are seeing the same confluence, hastened a bit by the national PHR project and the national roll out of high speed broadband and 4G wireless connectivity. Linking the technology to the clinical model is the key to making it succeed, and you rightly point out that the right incentives, in the form of accountable or bundled payments is a great lever to help make it happen.

  14. May 30, 2012 9:19 pm

    thanks, George. I appreciate your thoughtful comments

  15. May 31, 2012 11:10 am

    Good post. I think the data standards of IEEE 11073 are going to be important to make it possible for devices to speak the same language – enables easy upstream collation and comparison. When people endorse the same syntax and semantics then proprietary solutions will be adding value in other ways than owning data formats – real open records.

  16. May 31, 2012 12:12 pm

    this is an interesting insight on the technology requirements

  17. October 18, 2012 5:09 pm

    Nice post Jo. Though I am not sure I understand what you mean by big data helping in the transition to ACO model. How is bundled provider payment or global payments, otherwise known as the movement to Accountable Care is driving Big Data. I get it at a high level. The data has to move around a lot more between patients, providers (different constituents) and payers to deliver outcomes. But I wanted to understand a 3000 foot level view of what is happening. any thoughts?

    • October 18, 2012 7:34 pm

      As an industry, we’ve way underperformed on using patient derived data to inform our algorithms. our stuff is all about clinical decision support and making doctors more productive. Big data, when properly harnessed will enable us to serve up uniquely motivating heath programs to patients and consumers.


  1. Wireless Big Data in the Cloud - Pad In Motion

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