Business leaders gathered Thursday to discuss how an unprecedented amount of data flowing throughout the world may help improve business practices and health outcomes.
Representatives from Dealer.com, the Castleton Polling Institute, and the health insurance company Cigna talked about the concept of big data, plus the benefits and challenges associated with the velocity, volume, and variety of data in the world right now.
I think ethics is a huge concern, especially when so much data being implemented today in big data programs is being used in ways that was not the intended use when it was collected, said Rich Clark, the director of the Castleton Polling Institute.
We give data away so quickly and easily on Facebook today, in the supermarket every time you swipe your frequent shoppers card, Clark said. He said that company analysts might not be stopping you from buying the Oreos, but somebodys keeping track of the fact that you are.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce hosted the presentation as part of its Business and Industry Expo, an annual event that brings together hundreds of businesses for marketing and networking opportunities, and Vermonts largest event of its kind.
Jim Higgins, the vice president for sales at Cigna, said his company started talking with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in 2008 about how it could use insurance claims data to help doctors and hospitals improve peoples health.
If weve had someone whos been on the Cigna medical plan for a year or even longer, we can probably forecast from the data we have, are they a health risk? Higgins said. What a great idea if we can share that with a nurse from a local physicians office.
Higgins said the company, which is publicly traded and largely administrates self-insurance plans for big companies in Vermont, found out that chronic conditions drive about two-thirds of the cost of a health insurance plan and was able to cut the readmission rate in emergency rooms by 80 percent.
Higgins said one-in-six patients discharged from the emergency room are readmitted. Cigna tracks in real time whether patients have filled their prescriptions, he said, so if a patient doesnt fill her prescription after being discharged with a heart condition, the persons doctor can arrange a reminder phone call.
James Grace, from Dealer.com, said the company handles websites for about 17,000 car dealerships across the country. But he said the key is to using data is to turn it into information and answer the so what? for his clients.
The company, acquired by Cox Automotive in 2015, installs digital thermometers on sites to collect detailed data on site visits, and then cross-references that data with sales data to find correlations, and help each company manage the return on its investment for the money theyre spending.
Clark, from Castleton, said big data is an undefined term, and is leading to something he calls big data hubris: the assumption that having a large amounts of data is a virtue, rather than a vice.
He said social scientists have traditionally formed research hypotheses before seeking out data sources to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Today, he said people find themselves with massive amounts of data and form hypotheses from there.
We collect lots of data and we look for truth, Clark said. Thats a tall order from data. We have this tendency to acquire large amounts of data without really a plan for how to use it or what to do with it.
The trick of it, and the golden nugget, is making that data (into) knowledge and then having the wherewithal to apply this (knowledge) to some degree to make good decisions from it, he said.
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