With all of the unstructured data in medical journals, doctors' notes, radiology images and faxes, IT vendors have been developing technology to help the health care industry make sense of all the loose data.
In 2012, vendors will continue to develop cloud databases and supercomputers such as IBM Watson to store and process large volumes of "big data" and allow doctors to use this information to personalize medical treatment, according to experts.
"We really see big data as the new frontier across all industries, specifically health care," Richard Cramer, chief health care strategist at data integration vendor Informatica, told eWEEK. "The next decade is going to be the data decade in health care."
Past and current data could bring clinical and financial risk to light and allow physicians to find the best treatment options, said Michael Lake, health care technology strategist and president of research firm Circle Square.
"Big data, clinical analytics and personalized health will be huge in 2012," Lake predicted in a statement.
"From our perspective there's a huge potential in combining large-scale computing resources with this wealth of data to run big science-we're definitely seeing that trend," said Jason Stowe, CEO of Cycle Computing, which develops utility supercomputers that enable life science researchers to analyze large amounts of data in a short period of time. "There's a lot more data generated that people want to analyze, and this is going to continue into 2012."
Personalized medicine provides physicians with a comprehensive understanding of a person's health and genomic makeup, rather than relying on a superficial understanding of other patients' histories.
"Big data actually enables personalized medicine," Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, told eWEEK.
"You need sophisticated data management and you need the ability to analyze all the digital chemistry that goes on in a single patient," said Shah.
Traditional IT vendors such as Dell and Hitachi Data Systems are moving forward with ways to store big data for verticals such as health care, he noted.
"Instead of one size fits all, let's find the right size for you based on who you are, and that's really the goal of personalized medicine," Dr. David Zirl, area vice president at Dell Healthcare and Life Sciences, told eWEEK.
Finding the right drug based on the right data is called pharmacogenomics, Zirl noted.
On Nov. 10, Dell announced that it will donate its cloud infrastructure to a company called Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), which will store data for trials of potential pediatric cancer medication.
With the cloud and supercomputers, IT will play a critical role in being able to speed up the time for data to be analyzed, Zirl noted. The speed of data analysis is critical when dealing with patients who may not have more than a month or two to live, he said.
"Speeding up treatment ultimately leads to better quality of care being delivered, and we believe that's a big aspect of what's coming this year and beyond," said Zirl.