After delivering a fascinating view on the potential applications of big data and analytics in healthcare at the 2013 Knowledge Network event, Jeff Hammerbacher, who was responsible for conceiving, building and leading the data team at Facebook, and is now leading a team partnered with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine on a project designed to apply the power of Big Data to predicting and understanding the process and treatment of disease, was asked a simple question: What do you think is the biggest opportunity to apply big data in healthcare right now? His reply: Understanding what is currently happening across the healthcare ecosystem would be a good place to start. For a pioneering disruptive thinker like Mr. Hammerbacher to offer such a simple actionable item as his first thought, tells you we have much work to do to harness the opportunity in front of us to make better use of data.

In his recent CareThreads post Netsmart’s Chief Operating Officer Tom Herzog used the discovery of the microscope as an analogy to our current status of being at the infancy of leveraging Big Data in healthcare, but yet provided examples of how researchers have harnessed analytics applied to demographic data sets to better allocate resources to underserved at risk populations as one example of what is being done today to leverage data.

As I work closely with Netsmart’s clinical team and our client partners, I have the opportunity to see how innovative organizations across the country are also beginning to leverage their data. The one thing all of these organizations have in common is they have invested the needed resources and planning to develop an organizational measurement and analytics system. Having critical operational, clinical, and financial data at your fingertips, and an analytics system designed to push information to the point of action for those delivering care and making operational decisions, is critical to drive improvements required by the next phases of Meaningful Use. And these organizations are embracing this opportunity to establish a competitive advantage.

So no matter where your organization is in the Big Data journey, a good question to ask yourself is “do I know what is happening across my organization in terms of the care being delivered and the outcomes achieved for specific populations?” While your organization may not be ready to create predictive models, every organization should strive to understand what services are being delivered and the outcomes associated, for any subset of your population serviced. As others have found, I suspect you will find opportunity abounds to draw meaningful insights and drive improvements simply by understanding what is happening. It’s a good place to start….