Organisations in the healthcare sector, including hospitals, insurance providers and clinical researchers, are becoming increasingly aware of the potential benefits big data can offer them, which is leading to a large amount of new investment.

Cynthia Burghard, research director for accountable care IT strategies at IDC, explained in a piece for Dell that insurance providers have taken the lead so far, with these businesses historically being more sophisticated and willing to invest in technology.

However, other organisations across the sector are also increasingly interested in how big data analytics technology can help boost quality of care, improve patient outcomes, cut costs and develop new treatments.

Michael Joseph, service area manager for nonprofit health systems research and consulting firm Altarum Institute, said that with the right solutions in place, data will be able to offer a near real-time insight into key metrics, in order to assist physicians and other professionals with their decision-making.

And while there remain numerous challenges to the successful implementation of healthcare big data analytics solutions, such as a lack of standardisation of data, Ms Burghard observed the industry is "getting better" at this.

"Work needs to be done to make it useful for analytics. Right now there aren't real standards," she said.

A key driver for the move towards big data in the healthcare sector is the huge increase in the volume and variety of information that has become available in recent years. Mr Joseph noted there has been a proliferation of information from sources such as electronic healthcare records, claims, accounting data, devices, sensors and patient-generated data.

Figures from IDC suggest that 70 per cent of healthcare organisations will invest in mobile apps, wearable computing, remote health monitoring and virtual care by 2018, which will directly contribute to a significant increase in demand for big data and analytics. 

"Big data tools are now going mainstream and allow you to bring the most relevant information and more context to each patient encounter, adding a whole new dimension to clinical decision support," Mr Joseph said.

Changes in how the healthcare sector operates will also have an impact on how the industry uses data. For example, in the US, the Affordable Care Act will see doctors reimbursed based on the value of the service they provide, rather than simply per visit, as has been the case in the past.

Big data analytics will be essential to keep track of this value, Mr Joseph stated, while also being vital in identifying high-risk, high-cost patients.

"The justification for adopting a big data strategy in health care is warranted now," he added. "The data is there, the tools are there and the opportunities are there."