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Thomas Prewitt Jr.

Health Care

Small Data Are Key to Healthcare

And they’re essential for bottom-up healthcare reform

Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 09:34

Big data seem to be all the rage in healthcare, but from the perspective of a frontline clinician, they miss the mark. The clinical enterprise is the realm of small data. That’s because small data are directly related to patient care.

Examples of small data include:
• Missed clinic appointments
• Allergic reactions to drugs
• Operating room turnover times
• Timeliness of blood cultures for septic patients
• Correct diagnosis of AHD in teenagers

Big data can’t tell you that Mrs. Jones was admitted to the ER twice last week, but small data can.

Small data reside in hospitals, clinics, and communities. The data are stored in electronic medical records (EMR), paper charts, and pharmacy systems. Fitness centers, restaurants, churches, and other venues are potential sources of small data.

Because small data are local, clinicians can have better access to information they need. These systems might not be optimized yet, but it’s logical to assume that locally managed data should be more accurate, accessible, and timely than big data. Doctors tend to believe their own data more than data from government sources.

Small data are essential for bottom-up healthcare reform, where healthcare providers and patients work together to improve quality and reduce the cost of care at the clinical level. Frontline workers need actionable data in order to improve. Ownership of the data by the doctors is vitally important.

As we learned from W. Edwards Deming, organizations store knowledge in their people. It will be the constant flow of small data to these frontline clinicians that makes healthcare reform work.

First published July 7, 2015, on the Horne blog.


About The Author

Thomas Prewitt Jr.’s picture

Thomas Prewitt Jr.

Thomas Prewitt Jr., M.D., is the director of the Healthcare Delivery Institute at HORNE LLP, a CPA and business advisory firm. A graduate of Brent James’s Advanced Training Program at Intermountain Healthcare, Prewitt leads the firm’s efforts in healthcare delivery reform. His work focuses on training and services that help providers prepare for the healthcare delivery models of the future.