When the Health 2.0 Conference opened in San Francisco in September 2018, there was a lot of anticipation among attendees to learn what the future of big data in healthcare holds. What they discovered is that they are looking at a double-edged sword. The healthcare industry’s use of big data has come a long way in the last 10 years. However, the infrastructure that has made such tremendous growth possible may cripple future growth if something isn’t done.

There is little doubt that big data has prompted a paradigm shift in the U.S. healthcare system. Most of that shift is quite recent. According to a MedCity News report, 90% of the world’s existing data has been generated within the last two years. That is stunning.

It is clear that our capacity to generate data is greater than at any other point in history. And yet there are both positive and negative aspects to that. For example, being able to generate volumes of data for medical diagnostic purposes is a very good thing. But if no one knows how to use that data to actually improve diagnostics, does it have any real value?

A Better Regulatory Environment

One of the more interesting takeaways from Health 2.0 is the technology sector’s favorable view of regulation. A prominent healthcare CEO used the occasion of the conference to make mention of the fact that the current FDA environment has really opened the door to big data growth in healthcare. He cited the example of combining data from real world scenarios with clinical trial data to increase the speed at which new products get to market.

It’s not clear if he was referencing something specific, but what he described is very much in line with the state of regenerative medicine. A few subtle changes announced by the FDA earlier in 2018 have essentially created a fast-track program that will allow regenerative medicine procedures that are already proven safe to get FDA approval. Once that happens, real-world patient data will be used as the basis for clinical studies that will determine the efficacy of such treatments.

Rock West Solutions, a California company that offers big data and signal processing solutions for the healthcare industry, explains that the big data philosophy now gives us the opportunity to transcend traditional clinical studies by making better use of individual patient data in a real-world setting. They can see the value of using both big data and signal processing to get new products, delivery methods, and treatments to market.

Capacity May Not Keep Up

Most of what was heard at Health 2.0 was positive news. Yet there is a nagging problem in the background. That problem is the very real possibility that our current technological capabilities are not keeping up with the speed at which we can collect and aggregate data.

It turns out that our ability to collect data has already surpassed our ability to use it. That makes sense considering the previously mentioned statistic demonstrating how much data has been collected in the last couple of years. Some are worried that the healthcare sector is on the verge of being overwhelmed by so much data that future advancements will be stifled.

Big data has proved to be a valuable tool for healthcare. But it has also shown itself to be a double-edged sword. The question is this: can big data experts and the healthcare sector find a way to not only keep up with the amount of data being collected, but also use it in the most effective way? Time will tell.