Big Data

Is Big Brother Watching? Big Data Part II


August 27, 2013 | Reading Time: 2 Minutes

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In my last blog post, I explained what big data is and what it may mean for health care professionals.
If you are asking whether or not Big Brother is watching, well … he is, but there are many “big brothers” and many are sharing information with each other as well. Before you close your office curtains, let me say that much big data accumulation is benign. Furthermore, our state and federal governments are hard at work making sure it stays that way, too.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission’s Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez explained the many positive uses of big data that include, “forecasting weather and stock and commodity prices, upgrading network security systems, and improving manufacturing supply chains.” Such information is useful in allocating resources in times of need and preventing waste when surpluses are not being used.

On the other hand, there are many other applications of big data that directly identify consumers and threaten the consumer’s personal privacy. Ramirez also stated, “[t]here is little doubt that the skyrocketing ability of business to store and analyze vast quantities of data will bring about seismic changes in ways that may be unimaginable today. Unlocking the potential of big data can, for instance, improve the quality of health care while cutting costs. It can enable forecasters to make increasingly precise predictions about weather, crop yields, and spikes in the consumption of electricity. And big data can improve industrial efficiency, helping to deliver better products and services to consumers at lower costs. (See this link for a full transcript of her original Keynote Address where she detailed Best Practices for the big data industry at the Technology Policy Institute Aspen Forum on August 19, 2013).

More Information?

If you’d like more information about big data, read this summary article or this report of best practices related to big data. If you are fascinated by the topic, you might even order this popular 2013 book: Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. (I just listened to the MP3 version from and am now recommending it to all my entrepreneurial colleagues.)

What Can You Do about Big Data?

Here are a few questions for you to consider:

  • How well do you understand the systems you use in healthcare to contact, transmit and record patient information?
  • How do you vet a company or service?
  • Do you read the fine print in the agreements you sign for practice-related services purchased online or off? Do you understand what you are reading?
  • Do you ask questions of your vendors and insist that they provide you with a Business Associate’s Agreement?

We talk about a wide variety of privacy issues that are your responsbility as a health care provider or company in our  in our 6 unit, CE or CME course, Legal/Ethical Issues II: Best Practices & Informed Consent.

Big data can be used for or against our clients and patients. As behavioral and mental health professionals, it is our job to make sure that the information we generate and transmit is not used for harm.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

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