Every modern organization in any industry collects, manages, and analyzes data of various sorts. In some cases, these activities are plainly central to the mission of a business or group, as when a marketing firm constantly gathers and analyzes information about its projects and initiatives. In other cases, the centrality of data collection and analysis can be debated.

For many in the health care industry, for example, the question as to the importance of data has been a difficult one to answer. Every health care system is ultimately judged by the results it produces for individual patients, so that there is an understandable focus on this kind of ground-level activity.

At the same time, it has become increasingly clear to many experts that data sets of an appropriate scale and type can be plumbed to improve low-level results. When enough in the way of data velocity, variety, and volume obtain, these experts claim, approaches that fall under the general heading of "big data" can produce the kinds of insights that result in better health care for individuals.

Even given these increasingly common claims, many traditionalists are still asking "Why does healthcare need big data?" After all, if these data-driven approaches can, at best, duplicate the kinds of results that are produced by prevailing methods, then it seems possible that investments in enabling them might be wasted.

The reality of big data in healthcare, though, is that it promises to deliver results that cannot be obtained by the conventional approaches. The leading health informatics report that they have been unable to unveil opportunities for cost-cutting, efficiency-boosting, and improved outcomes that they had never been able to discover by the usual means.

What big data and predictive analytics in healthcare have to offer, then, is a whole new avenue for improving the quality and cost-efficiency of health care. Equipped with enough in the way of data to analyze and suitable tools for doing it, administrators can discover how to cut costs while simultaneously leaving their patients better off.

For many today, then, health care might seem like one of those fields where data is less than central to the basic mission. Oftentimes, however, this assumption rests on some mistaken ideas as to what can actually be derived from concerted, focused analysis of enough in the way of data. While large-scale data stores will never be the primary focus of health care, it is becoming increasingly obvious that they can be an important part of it.