There was a spirited discussion among panelists on the topic of big data and health care and whether someday, perhaps as soon as five years from now, computers will analyze our health records and be able to recommend treatment options without the need for a human doctor.
The idea was rejected for many reasons, including the argument that a computer can't match a human doctor's insights including, for example, the ability to evaluate how a patient responds to a question (facial expression, tone of voice, etc.) and what kind of follow-up questions are appropriate.
"One of the things with big data is that it's all about correlations, not causality," said Jai Menon, vice president and chief research officer for Dell Research. "If the data says orange juice and vitamins take care of this type of cancer, it still doesn't know why."
But Dell customer Ken Yale, vice president of Clinical Solutions at Active Health Management, sees opportunities for big data to play a bigger role. While we rely on a doctor's expertise to keep us healthy, Yale said studies have shown that "50 percent of the time a doctor's diagnosis is wrong." He also predicts that "in five years, 80-90 percent of diagnoses will be made by computers or devices."
Another hot button issue with big data is privacy. Panelists noted that we're now collecting years if not decades of data on people that may be used in ways that could not have been predicted when it was originally gathered. While big data systems may collect this data in aggregate to spot trends without identifying specific individuals, the analysis might get so specific as to clearly identify one or a handful of individuals with, say, a unique set of symptoms.
In any case, it's clear that the younger generation is more prone to share detailed information about themselves, particularly on social media. How that plays out in the future remains to be seen.
"The alternative view in research we did about the younger generation and over-sharing is that there's a risk you don't know enough about me and aren't utilizing the information I'm willing to share," said Nik Rouda, senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "I'd love to be marketed the right product and not the car I just bought. And if my insurance company has reason to believe my health is at risk, tell me."