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by Andrew Cole, MBA Candidate 2013, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

As a current MBA candidate with an interest in healthcare, many people have asked me what opportunities I see that will have a transformational effect on the healthcare industry.  After attending the 2nd Annual Robert H. Smith School of Business & IBM Business Analytics Workshop, which focused on healthcare analytics, I can definitively say that advanced analytics will have a profound impact on the future of healthcare.

Some of the research and presentations touched on the use of analytics by physicians to provide increased quality of care, how IBM’s Watson is being incorporated into aspects of healthcare, and health plans utilizing analytics to provide personalized plan options and transparent cost information to their members.  What struck me about the event was the diversity of backgrounds of the attendees, from physicians to health plan administrators and from students to military personnel.  It was clear from this and the presentations that analytics will be a major need in all aspects of healthcare going forward.

The use of analytics will advance the progress healthcare leaders have already made thus far in understanding the most effective treatments given a specific set of conditions.  It will enable leaders to aggregate evidence-based best practices across large populations and aid healthcare providers in delivering more effective care.  Additionally, analytics will have a profound impact on the cost of healthcare by optimizing the delivery and workflow of existing processes.

The amount of data generated in the healthcare industry continues to double every five years, and this trend necessitates new skills and approaches to make sense of it all.  No individual is capable of interpreting so much information without assistance. Skills in analytics, natural language processing, and machine learning will all be required to be an effective business leader in the future healthcare environment.  This need presents a significant opportunity for students who can get exposure to these skills early in their careers. To fill the skills gap,  partnerships such as the one between IBM and the University of Maryland are emerging to develop the next generation of healthcare leaders.

As data volumes continue to grow, our desire to incorporate additional data points will also grow.  For example, in addition to analyzing claims and EHR data, what additional insights could be gained by incorporating a patient’s lifestyle data?  What happens when genomic information is layered in on top of that?  Clearly, using analytics to mine big data for knowledge discovery is the next frontier and will provide the next generation of novel hypotheses and solutions.

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