Healthcare transformation must ride the Big Data wave

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  • Muhammad saeed says:

    Informative article.

  • Kashif Pirzada says:

    Much of this is already being accomplished through the work on ConnectingGTA and ConnectingOntario. We should be careful that theoretical benefits don’t become a bludgeon to impose poorly designed electronic medical records on already overburdened health providers, as occurred in the US following the adoption of the ACA.
    One real benefit of big data would be to use the data collected in our various hospitals for machine learning projects, which Ontario and Quebec would be well placed to do given their proximity to world leading researchers and companies in the area.

  • Franklin Warsh says:

    Everyone hates silos and loves data. That being said, healthcare’s present love of data is reminiscent of its love of computerized records a decade ago. It’s been a painful and expensive transition to the digital world, with relatively little evidence that the results have been worth the costs.

    For dissemination of information and communication, technology has been a godsend. But health care is a human (and political) enterprise. Data needs input, which these days is diverting an ever-increasing share of health professionals’ time. Data needs analysis, which demands commitment of talented people and resources. And data analysis needs action, or the entire exercise becomes that very Canadian activity of studying a problem to exhaustion then doing whatever’s politically expedient.

    I too was a great enthusiast for electronic records and data sharing, until that data became a bludgeon for the bureaucracy to threaten funding, and a treasure trove of excuses for political inaction.

    Data works magnificently for the financial industry because it’s numbers on a screen representing numbers in a bank account. But it can’t capture or reflect the burned-out caregiver spouse of an elderly person languishing in hospital with dementia; or the family doctor that inherited a patient on 10 times the maximum recommended dose of morphine, who’s dealing with the College investigation into her prescribing; or the casual nurse mother who can’t get enough hours to pay the bills; or the careerist administrator who won’t compromise an inch on policy, even in extraordinary circumstances.

    Data is information, nothing more, nothing less. It’s who and what we do or don’t with it that matters.

  • Margaret says:

    Excellent article.

  • Marilyn Knix says:

    Good article with examples from other sectors.
    Data well-used can help redesign our system.
    Talented people like Arif and Morgan are fundamental to improving health and healthcare.

  • Muhammad Mamdani says:

    It’s terrific to see a thoughtful piece advocating for better organization and use of healthcare data to drive clinical practice, healthcare system performance, etc. Congratulations on putting this together. The historical investments in legacy systems and infrastructure, particularly in smaller hospitals / centres, are often cited as a major barrier to change in a relatively conservative sector (i.e. healthcare). What advice would you give to those who feel they may be ‘too small’, ‘too vested in legacy systems and infrastructure’, or ‘not sufficiently resourced’ to move to infrastructures that enable advanced analytics?

    • Arif Siddiqui says:

      Thanks for the question Muhammad. Whether your organization seems too small, too vested in legacy systems, or insufficiently resourced, I would encourage us to think big but start small.
      Start by addressing one problem at a time. Pick a problem that is aligned to your organizational strategy, feasible with currently available data with an appropriate level of quality, and most of all, something that is actionable.
      Creating value through actionable insights is the ultimate goal. Starting small allows us to take that ‘risk’ by not putting much at risk.

  • Warren Viegas says:

    Big data presents oppourtunity in many industries. Do you think the healthcare system has the incentives to attract top talent in competition with financial services/ technology/ other industry?

    • Arif Siddiqui says:

      Great question Warren. In healthcare we need to entice talent to join through the motivation to contribute to the health of a community. Other industries can compensate much better than healthcare but I believe it starts with compassion and knowing that this is heart-work. Compensation will come later – once we use big data to identify problems and solve the right ones, the savings will come.


Arif Siddiqui


Arif Siddiqui is the Lead for Data Discovery at the Institute for Better Health at Trillium Health Partners, he’s also an Adjunct Professor at the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Sciences at Centennial College.

Morgan Lim


Morgan Lim is an Associate Scientist at the Institute for Better Health at Trillium Health Partners, she’s also an Associate Professor ​at the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto.

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