Big Data in Healthcare: Know the Risks + Rewards

Being a hospital CEO, CFO, CIO or really chief anything, means you need to understand the complexity, risk and opportunity associated with running a data company (which, surprise, you do).

Data is central to everything in healthcare today. Electronic health records (EHRs) have given healthcare providers a platform to digitize and collect massive amounts of data. There are more than 2,300 exabytes1 of healthcare data in the digital universe – up 1,400% from 2013 and growing more than 30% each year.

But what is all this digital data doing for hospitals and patients? Not much (yet). Despite all the potential from this information, we’re only using less than 3% of it and the use of paper is still prevalent. Additionally, productivity is only increasing by 1-3% as a result.

Nearly 90% of providers believe they can achieve better clinical benefits with digitized data.2 However, healthcare data is messy and normalizing it to make it valuable is a huge challenge.

A lot of data is unstructured free text; it’s coming from a lot of disconnected systems and there is a ton of variety – think patient demographics, doctor’s letters, lab results, medications, radiology, insurance and financial information. Additionally, each data type may include various kinds of metrics, such as age, date of birth and measurements, e.g., kg, g/ml. The challenge is to organize the data volume, metrics and measurements from all formats and sources and put it to work.3

As one healthcare leader stated, “It is hard, boring work done by incredibly smart people. There’s no magic solution.” But with more data comes more risk. Are you prepared?

You’ve already got the risk, now get the reward.

Did you know that there are 18x more healthcare data bytes in existence than stars in the observable universe? Every patient adds 80 million bytes of data and each hospital adds 50 quadrillion bytes per year. 

The rewards for big data in healthcare could be abundant when used correctly. The data monetization market in the U.S. could reach $68 billion in 2025,* so it’s essential to understand the risks and what to do next.

Risks of Big Data in Healthcare

While digital information has become an essential piece of healthcare, digital data proliferation has also opened doors for information security risks.

Data breaches or cyberattacks have increased significantly in the last year. In 2021, 45 million people were impacted by healthcare data breaches, which is 84% more likely than in 2018.4 The 2022 stats are already staggering just within the first six months – 337 healthcare data breaches occurred with over 19 million records breached.5  

Not only is a data breach bad for patients and healthcare organizations, but they’re also expensive. The average cost to remediate a breach is over $10 million, increasing 9% in one year; however, one health system’s price was nearly $113 million.6,7

All hospitals and health systems are at risk no matter their size, location or prominence. All hackers care about is getting your data – and they’re coming for it. Check out the Hospital Data Breach Playbook to ensure your healthcare organization is prepared for such an event.

Take a proactive and strategic big data and cybersecurity approach. Healthcare leaders must focus on proper management, cybersecurity and utilization of this massive amount of data to not only maintain their organization’s reputation but position it for future success.

Here are three ways to take control of your data:

Secure it

Have an enterprise data strategy in place and create a culture of preparedness.8

  • Include your cybersecurity team in everything your organization is doing. View this team as a critical partner in digital transformation, not a barrier. And involve your cyber (and legal) teams early in any data and innovation initiatives.
  • Stay ahead of regulations. Understand the rules of how data can and cannot be used and include in your data strategy, even as the proliferation of data outpaces regulatory guidelines.
  • Create a cybersecurity prevention and response plan. To prevent data breaches and mitigate risks of security threats, educate employees on prevention tactics since they are the first line of defense. For your response plan, map out all impacted areas like clinical and revenue cycle downtime, understand analog capabilities, identify support teams and create a data backup strategy.

Structure it

Make data and IT infrastructure investment a priority. Establish and organize an enterprise data warehouse for collecting, storing, analyzing and presenting your data to improve efficiencies and patient outcomes.3

  • Employ data models that are flexible and future-proof to ingest different types of data sources into the warehouse. Be sure your data warehouse includes the 5 Vs of big data analytics: volume, velocity, variety, veracity, value. Each one represents a big data characteristic that should be a part of the framework.
  • Start building your warehouse with structured data, like EHR data, followed by unstructured data, such as doctor’s letters and device data, and then add new data. Continue collecting data in real-time to further enable your team with accurate information to make quick decisions when needed, for example, when patients are sent home from the hospital and are monitored via mobile devices.
  • Create a user-friendly and interoperable system for end users with different skill sets, like researchers and providers, to collaborate, present, interpret and use the data.

Put it to work

Monetize your data (directly and indirectly).

  • Analyze your data to improve outcomes. Map your inputs to outputs to reduce variation in contracts and supplies, streamline authorization processes with payors and improve preventive and chronic care management.
  • Think beyond digitizing analog experiences to improve patient engagement. Don’t settle for patients typing their name on an iPad instead of writing it on the clipboard. Ask why patients need to fill in their name at all if their information and appointment time is already in your system. Instead of emailing someone to remind them of a scheduled appointment, text on their birthday to remind them to schedule their first annual mammogram.
  • Capitalize on the data’s inherent value. Properly de-identifying and sharing data can be a new revenue stream for providers and patients. Recently 20 innovative health systems came together to form Truveta, an organization designed to combine, normalize and leverage the massive amounts of data the systems managed to improve patient care, advance health equity and expedite research. Open Health launched a platform called PatientSphere allowing patients to monetize their health data by connecting companies or research institutions with patients who fit the criteria for different studies or analytics. This model uses blockchain technology to secure its data exchange, and this helps resolve data governance and privacy concerns seen elsewhere.

As the amount of healthcare data generated each year grows exponentially, so do the risks and opportunities associated with it. We have more information waiting to be organized than ever before in human history. Let’s use it to provide more access options to people in all communities. Let’s use it to make the practice of medicine more personal, more equitable, more human.


Ensure your partners are helping you prevent the risks and maximize the rewards of your data. Learn more about Ensemble’s commitment to information security, achieving the HITRUST Risk-based, 2-year Certification for our proprietary EIQ revenue intelligence platform and our flagship facility.


  1. Fed Health IT
  3. Frontiers: Better Patient Outcomes Through Mining of Biomedical Big Data
  4. Claims Journal: Viewpoint: Recognize and Plan for Health Care Cybersecurity Risks
  5. Becker’s Health IT: 19M Health Records Compromised in the First Half of 2022
  6. Health IT Security: Average Healthcare Data Breach Costs Surpass $10M, IBM Finds
  7. Modern Healthcare: Scripps Health Cyberattack Cost the Company $113 Million
  8. HIMSS: Cybersecurity in Healthcare

*Prediction by Transparency Market Research.