Big Data, Fruit Baskets, Androids and mHealth

When our mHealth program director began talking about “Big Data”, I have to admit the first thing that came to mind was an enormous, gold-skinned android (you other Star Trek geeks understand this). As it turns out, he was actually talking about the challenges presented in capturing, storing, managing and analyzing large data sets. Really, really, really large data sets. Big Data refers to data sets that reach into the hundreds of terabytes or petabyte range and are often made up of a wide variety of data types. Imagine a fruit basket with apples, oranges, pears, bananas, limes, lemons, pomegranates, mango, papaya, kumquat and so on. Each piece of fruit would represent a piece of data. Now image that fruit basket the size of… the Sun! That gives you an idea of how varied and large Big Data can be.

Now imagine having to work with that fruit basket, I mean, data. Big Data has presented all new challenges in data storage, management, organization, access and analysis. Traditional data analysis software lacks the abilities to work with such large, diverse volumes of data. Believe it or not, this is a good thing as it has lead to the development of a whole new generation of data analysis tools and strategies. For instance, It has lead to the creation of massive and reliable cloud storage. It has started a revolution in mobile applications and mobile services.

Big Data is poised to be a driving force in useful, accessible and reliable mobile tools. As mobile devices, social networks and the Web feed Big Data, developers are finding new ways to leverage the knowledge that it contains. Have you done a Web search from your smartphone and received local results? Have you used a mapping mobile app to get personalized directions? These are examples of Big Data in action. Now envision applying that to health and wellness. We (along with many other organizations) already are. There are mobile apps that can help you develop a personalized fitness and nutrition program and others that can help you manage chronic health conditions like diabetes. These apps provide customized education and solutions by leveraging the vast information available through Big Data.

As Big Data gets bigger, so do the opportunities for mobile health. The key to providing helpful, supportive mHealth applications is an extensive source of current, reliable information, which Big Data is poised to deliver. The challenges of management and analysis are quickly being addressed, and the solutions are making information available and usable by patients, providers and health care organizations. The positive impact that Big Data is having on mobile health would be enough to make any gold-skinned android a little envious.

Bill Wheeler is the Social Media Manager and a subject matter expert at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


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