August 10, 2016

The Future of Health Care

At a recent conference in Madison on the future of health care, WHIO CEO Jo Musser offered insights into the benefits of Big Data in improving the quality and value of care in Wisconsin. The panel discussion also included experts in the growing field of telehealth, an outgrowth of early telemedicine.

The possibilities of telemedicine, a means to diagnose and treat patients using communications technology, were first imagined in the early part of the 20th Century. Those dreams became a reality in the early 1950s when doctors were able to transmit x-rays through telephone lines and closed circuit TV.

By the 1960s, microwave transmissions were relaying medical data to physicians from Native Americans living on remote reservations and astronauts circling the earth. Soon, first responders were able to transmit a patient’s vital signs in real time from ambulance to hospital while en route.

Today, using smart phones, heart patients can have their pacemakers monitored from any location; microscope attachments can scan blood samples for disease; and hi-tech lenses can help diagnose skin and other conditions.

Telemedicine has now blossomed into telehealth, a means to not just diagnose and treat disease, but to communicate and educate, to discuss a patient’s concerns and disseminate information on broader health care topics, such as nutrition, post-op care and rehabilitation, for example.

These functions of personalized telehealth, tailored to meet the needs of an individual patient, fill a very different role than the business of Big Data which processes high volumes of statistical information at high speed for analyses. Like telehealth, Big Data is also leading to quality improvement and cost efficiencies in health care.

The Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO) is a repository of large volumes of data on health care procedures and practices in the state. WHIO’s data analysts work exclusively with statistics with no patient information. Their studies provide roadmaps that highlight regions of the state exhibiting high levels of quality health care, as well as areas that need improvement. They allow health care administrators to see where in their system they can enhance patient care and lower costs.

WHIO data also serve patients and their families in the state through the website There, you can see how medical clinics measure up to their peers in your area - important information when choosing your primary care doctor. You’ll also find useful tools and tips to help you play a more active role in your own health care decisions.

Big Data and telehealth are two very different hi-tech means to the same end: improving the quality and value of health care in Wisconsin.