Americans spend over three trillion dollars on health care a year and generate more health data than ever. Between the potential for using smartphone data to measure patient mood, to the possibility of utilizing analytics for anticipating patient no-shows, a sea of big data inundates our health care climate.

Harnessing the power of data

New digital health technology allows physicians to get a better view into their patients’ lives. Patient function and care goals are important components in painting an overall health and wellness portrait. As such, big data can help physicians bring that image in to focus. Considering it’s how care providers electronically describe patient function and goals, big data is the backbone to addressing health outcomes. However, it is a broken backbone. A portion of the most meaningful data is inaccessible or incomplete.

What if you went to the doctor’s office for your yearly physical, and told the physician that you wanted to reduce the burnout you felt from your job? There’s no electronic medical wellness term to describe the goal of reducing burnout — there is not even a code to define “wellness,” itself. With current clinical tools and terminology, it is hard to define and capture the concept of wellness, yet it’s clear: there is a need to capture this data.

As American Medical Association CEO James L. Madara notes, “It’s hard to believe that in an ocean of data, we only have puddles have clinical meaning. You bounce around the electronic record… history here, renal function there, searching for puddles of meaning.”

As patients, we could be stronger advocates of our own wellness if health data were organized and had contextual meaning. Data could allow us more time with our providers and could provide a comprehensive view of our current health status to help our providers support our personal wellness goals. Rather than just living, we could thrive.

Creating a picture of innovation from snapshots of discussion

At the American Medical Association (AMA), we believe that we can combat the problem of obtaining shared meaning among data by changing how we talk about health. Our suggestion? We need better conversation around the health topics that impact society — the topics that are most costly and burdensome, such as wellness.

A collaborative effort and discussion around common health interests and issues is being facilitated by our Integrated Health Model Initiative (IHMI), a virtual platform with the goal of finding the best science and practices behind burdensome diseases. Communities are open to all stakeholders, from physicians and patients to data experts to payers and tech developers. Melding ideas from these active participants will yield best sciences, highlight needs for improved clinical data organization, eventually fabricating a common understanding of how different data relates to one another.

To start improving care from a data standpoint, AMA IHMI Program Lead, Kristina Finney, MPH, says we have to start speaking the same language. Like finding missing words to finish an incomplete sentence in a series of paragraphs, the big data lexicon does not always translate. IHMI discussions are laying the groundwork for a common lexicon: How could we speak in paragraphs without the sentences, grammar, words and letters?

The AMA’s effort is an ongoing process, supported by a strong leadership team on the long journey. More online communities will continue to be added in 2018, with a goal to find more puddles of meaning from an ocean of data. To get there, the AMA is working with a broad group of stakeholders to complete projects to tackle and impact the initial priorities and will continue work through costly and burdensome areas.

All individual and organizational stakeholders are welcome to participate in IHMI


  • Based in Chicago, IL, Jenny is a transformational leader and wellness advocate who is fueled by learning and purpose.