With all the talk these days about healthcare harnessing the power of big data, the industry is just starting to take advantage of the tsunami of data being generated by a myriad of sources, according to Victor Dzau, M.D., president of the Institute of Medicine.

Speaking on Monday in a keynote session at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, Dzau told the audience that when people discuss the concept of big data and healthcare “they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Dzau, who previously served as president and CEO of Duke University Health System before being named president of IOM last year, argues that big data is “really about everything around the individual” including social interactions and activities, and not just electronic health records. “In fact, it’s about the totality of information,” he said.

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“Right now, we’re really not dealing with big data,” Dzau said. “But, we are beginning to deal with a lot more” data with the proliferation of wearable sensors such as Fitbit and advances in genomics. “So, eventually there will be a time when truly we are dealing with every interaction” of a patient physiologically and environmentally, he asserted.

However, according to Dzau, the analysis of big data—not the collection of this vast amount of data—is the major challenge confronting healthcare. “A much bigger issue is how we use the information” and addressing the issues of data security, privacy, and ownership as well as the “democratization of data,” he said, adding “we’re really at the very beginning” of this effort.

What is required is a “systematic collection of information,” according to Dzau. In addition, he believes that the healthcare industry needs to “invest heavily in informatics” as well as the human resources involved not only in the collection of data but also in the analysis of that data in a systematic way. “We have to train our clinicians to be competent in not only using electronic health records.”

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