September 22, 2015

The Power of Big Data

A physicians group in Wisconsin wants to know who among them is providing quality care in the most cost effective manner and what they can learn from their practices.

A hospital system in the state wants to know if patients are readmitted with 30 days and if so, where.

On the other side of the world, emergency medical teams in Africa want to predict where the next outbreak of Ebola may occur; while pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. seek to learn what existing drugs for some conditions might provide beneficial treatments for others.

All of these questions and more are being answered today by analyzing Big Data.

As defined in the Gartner IT Glossary, Big Data is “high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.”

In the 21st Century, in almost every area of society, analysis of Big Data is helping develop and accelerate improvements in quality and efficiency, but it wasn’t always so.

In Wisconsin in 2003, when Helene Nelson joined Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services, she recalls that, “Everybody was concerned about high cost and uneven quality of health care and we knew we needed better information. However, people did not agree on what information - who would collect it and how to use it. So, the legislature had mandated a physician office visit data reporting system.” Physicians disliked the idea, calling it a burden and not useful. Governor Doyle agreed and asked the legislature to drop the mandate, but the legislature did not. “That stalemate,” says Nelson, “was the opportunity that led to the creation of WHIO (the Wisconsin Health Information Organization) because many of us from state government, health care providers, purchasers, payers started meeting to say, ‘What’s a better approach – trustworthy data, useful to all.’”

It was Dr. John Toussaint, CEO of ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value, who brought together a coalition of all those groups to create the Wisconsin Health Information Organization, a statewide, voluntary, All-Payer Claims Database (APCD). Today, ten years since the founding of the organization, WHIO, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, is a vast health care database that holds no patient identification information, but a wealth of material that, when carefully analyzed, is helping practitioners and researchers find ways to increase the quality of care while lowering the cost.

The Wisconsin Health Information Organization is dedicated to improving the quality, affordability, safety and efficiency of health care in Wisconsin. Through its public reporting website,, WHIO data encourage and family education and engagement in their own health care decisions. Big Data is the solid foundation from which all those efforts rise.