In your day to day life, you likely will have noticed the rapid development of data storage technology in private data storage over the last roughly fifteen to twenty years. The data capacity for USB and SD card storage has increased immensely over what seems to have been a relatively short period of time in developmental computer science. Personal mobile phones, likewise, have gone from having a limited capacity for storing text messages to being able to hold comparatively enormous amounts of information; music libraries, HD video and high resolution images, even complex videogames. The difference between the handsets from the start of the mobile phone boom–primarily used for SMS, phone calls and the occasional game of “Snake”–and smart phones of today is like night and day.

The demand for increased data storage has been the driving force behind this rapid iteration of data technology but it has also created a positive developmental feedback loop. As our capacity for data has increased, so has our appetite for it, that is, our desire for greater and more practical data. In turn, this has opened up avenues previously unexplored for the development data-driven services that may have never even been imagined previously. Medicine and the wider healthcare industry has benefitted greatly from this broadening perspective on what data can be used for, and more importantly, what data could potentially be used for in the future. While for most industries big data has become mostly a tool for customer acquisition and meeting consumer demands, the healthcare industry has been uniquely positioned to use increasing personal data visibility for numerous practical healthcare and treatment solutions.

The increase in data storage capacity has enabled us to imagine tools and services that previously never would have been possible. These rich data sets of patient information started with simple digitised medical records, seldom larger than a few megabytes of text and personal health information. The ability to incorporate things like images, such as x-rays or CT scans, increased the need for and also the potential applications of, granular patient information. What we are seeing today however is a massive expansion in what can be stored and in turn, how patient data can be leveraged.

Out-patient monitoring, real time user-to-clinician updates and communication, video storage, genomic mapping information. The amount of viable and useful data we can store and utilise for an individual patient has gone from megabytes into the realm of terabytes. From a practical standpoint, this has created new and unexpected challenges for clinical data storage, challenges being met by new innovations in cloud and on-premise data storage solutions. With these new challenges however, has also come enormous opportunity. The benefits to patients and consumers from this collection of data has opened the door to avenues of care that previously would never have been possible.

The development and empowerment of in-home care and off-site patient communication. The relative speed and security of digitised health records over traditional paper ones. The incredible developments in machine learning and programmatic development from utilisation of anonymised patient image and video data. Even the potential for predictive and preventative healthcare measures enabled by genomic patient data. This is just a handful of things that are already here, things we are working on in the present and delivering to patients the world over. Some of these technologies have been in use for some time now, others are only just emergent, and that ongoing development is yielding promising new possibilities. Both old and emergent technology is only getting better, more precise and more informative. In the early nineties, as the data boom was only in inception, few could have imagined what would be possible today. Likewise, even with the far greater understanding of the reach and capabilities of big data, few can likely imagine what it could bring tomorrow.