Physicians today face an ever-growing problem — overwhelming data. Thursday’s Presidential Guest Speaker Rebecca Costa said 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data are generated every day. By 2020, that will grow exponentially to 40 zettabytes of data a day — that’s equivalent to 400 billion gigabytes.
Costa, a sociobiologist and host of the syndicated radio program The Costa Report, said complex and overwhelming data is a serious problem.
“Medical information is doubling every one to two years,” she said. “To keep up with breakthroughs in the field of medicine, a doctor would have to devote 160 hours a week to reviewing papers and articles. However, 81 percent of physicians report spending five hours or less per month reviewing journals.”
This is a problem because humans are wired to revert to belief when they’re overwhelmed and can’t easily find facts.
“When this happens, policy becomes shaped by beliefs rather than knowledge and fact,” Costa said. “Belief is part of being human, but there comes a point where unproven beliefs begin to dominate because facts are too difficult to discern and access.”
To illustrate the difficulty facing physicians when seeking valuable scientific evidence, Costa shared information on attempts by Amgen and Bayer Healthcare to replicate important research studies.
Amgen investigators attempted to replicate 53 landmark cancer studies, but they were able to replicate the results of only six she said. Similarly, Bayer researchers were able to reproduce only 25 percent of the seminal studies they attempted to replicate.
Costa said the number of scientific retractions has increased tenfold in the past decade, which makes the scientific community susceptible to unproven beliefs.
Fortunately, Costa said that while technology helped create the problem of overwhelming data, it can also help to solve it.
She went on to discuss the various ways technology can help physicians put big data to work for them — from IBM’s Watson to monitors that can predict when an elderly person will fall and algorithms that can identify patients at high-risk for opioid addiction.
“The goal is to leap from data production to predictive analytics,” Costa said. “The accelerating velocity of change makes it difficult to adapt after the fact. To succeed, we must get out ahead of change. We’re the only species able to imagine the future. We can make a change in the present to influence the future. Foreknowledge is power. Prevention is easier than repair.”