“I’m a nurse and I couldn’t do more to prevent my father’s death,” said IHPI member Patricia Abbott, PhD, RN, FAAN, FACMI. “The guilt stays with you. I will never stop wondering if I could have done more. His medical records were a mess and the care team was drowning in data but starving for information.”
Ironically, Dr. Abbott, a University of Michigan School of Nursing (UMSN) associate professor, had dedicated her career to exploring how massive amounts of data can improve care for patients long before “Big Data” was a common phrase.
In 2009, Dr. Abbott’s father, James W. Davis underwent a quintuple coronary artery bypass operation to restore normal blood flow to his heart. Davis was taking medication for cardiac arrhythmias (heart rhythm disturbances) and having minor breathing trouble, but overall seemed to be on the mend when a fall from a tractor landed him in his small, rural hospital.
Instead of dwelling on regrets, Dr. Abbott returned to her research with a new sense of purpose. “Harnessing the data and making it work for us not only saves money and improves care, but it also can reduce suffering,” she said.
Dr. Abbott is exploring a variety of innovative Big Data opportunities including how social media can be used to monitor disease outbreaks. “Most people think of social media data as worthless, but there is incredible value hidden in there,” she said. “For example, if you look at Twitter streams and see an increase in tweets about fever and muscle aches that are geo-tagged to a certain area, then tie that info with school attendance data, it can show a relationship between the tweeted symptoms and absenteeism. This can be a valuable tool for community-based nurses to slow disease spread.”