Big data is changing the way information is shared in the medical field. Current technologies such as IBM’s Watson are working to merge data from multiple sources to make it easier to access as well as share. Even ten years ago most doctors would not have known anything about big data, and it was definitely not taught in medical school. Today big data is becoming a crucial part of the healthcare field including the diagnosis and treatment of patients. It is important that doctors not only understand the importance of data but know how to properly access and interpret the data. The NYU School of Medicine requires that its first and second-year students complete a health care by the numbers project. Students are given access to a giant database with more than 5 million anonymous records, which includes information on every hospital patient in the state for the preceding two years.

Also, students have access to a companion database for about 50,000 outpatients called the Lacidem Care Group. The database contains anonymous patient and doctor information from the faculty practices at NYU. Students use analytic tools provided by the project to look at quality measures for a variety of medical conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure. They take this information and look at the performance of the practice as a whole as well as the performance of individual doctors. As future doctors, researchers and even teachers, these students are not only getting a firsthand look at the importance of data in the medical field but more importantly they are getting hands on experience with how it can actually be used in real-life situations. Though IBM’s Watson and similar data analyzing technologies are promising it’s important that tomorrow’s medical leaders understand the process and how to get from “point A to point B.” All the data in the world is useless if they cannot understand how to analyze it and make it work for them. This type of innovative teaching could prove to be an invaluable on the job tool. Big data has made its way into the health field and seems to more than just a passing fad. If this holds true, these NYU medical students are getting a big push in the right direction.

Students have responded positively, and the project is part of a research project that is headed for publication. NYU has offered its database and program to other medical schools, some of whom are incorporating it into their curricula. This is of notable importance because the importance of big data can be found throughout the medical field and people are buying into the hype – and with good reason. Not only with highlighting trends, but also in helping to understand genetic diseases better, as well as medical conditions that affect certain ethnicity groups, genders or age groups.