Experts from Facebook and genetics labs team up to help doctors make personalized predictions about their patients.
Jeff Hammerbacher, a 30-year-old known for being Facebook’s first data scientist is applying the same data-crunching techniques used to target online advertisements, but this time for a powerful engine that will suck in medical information and spit out predictions that could cut the cost of health care.
Patient data are slim by comparison, and not very dynamic. Records get added to infrequently—not at all if a patient visits another hospital.
That’s a limitation, Hammerbacher says. Yet he hopes big-data technology will be used to search for connections between, say, hospital infections and the DNA of microbes present in an ICU, or to track data streaming in from patients who use at-home monitors.
One person he’ll be working with is Joel Dudley, director of biomedical informatics at Mount Sinai’s medical school. Dudley has been running information gathered on diabetes patients (like blood sugar levels, height, weight, and age) through an algorithm that clusters them into a weblike network of nodes. In “hot spots” where diabetic patients appear similar, he’s then trying to find out if they share genetic attributes. That way DNA information might add to predictions about patients, too.
A goal of this work, which is still unpublished, is to replace the general guidelines doctors often use in deciding how to treat diabetics. Instead, new risk models—powered by genomics, lab tests, billing records, and demographics—could make up-to-date predictions about the individual patient a doctor is seeing, not unlike how a Web ad is tailored according to who you are and sites you’ve visited recently.
That is where the big data comes in. In the future, every patient will be represented by what Dudley calls “large dossier of data.” And before they are treated, or even diagnosed, the goal will be to “compare that to every patient that’s ever walked in the door at Mount Sinai,” he says. “[Then] you can say quantitatively what’s the risk for this person based on all the other patients we’ve seen.”