July 2021   HEALTHCARE

Big data

Albert Einstein once said: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” His words retain a striking relevance for us in 2021 as ‘big data’ is increasingly having an effect on all our lives.
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The term ‘big data’ is easily understood as the acquiring of data and lots of it. But what is less widely understood, is that it also refers to processing that data and making use of it. 

Healthcare, like many industries, stands to benefit hugely from the rise in ‘big data’, so long as it is sensibly and responsibly interpreted. It’s even been proposed that the effective deployment of big data could add more years to our lives than inventing new drugs.[1]

This exciting possibility is being driven, in the first instance, by better data-gathering. Since 2016, the amount of data in the healthcare system has increased by over 800%[2], yet there is still so much data relevant to our health that is not being gathered by healthcare systems.

For example, socio-economic and behavioural data, geographic data, even shopping data, all has the potential to impact our health, yet this data currently sits outside of healthcare systems[3] on databases trying to sell us our next pair of shoes, or influence what we watch on Netflix.

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has actually highlighted how data can shape the future of healthcare on a global level. With no-one having any experience of treating the disease before 2020, healthcare systems around the world had to develop new care models overnight. In many cases, data was shared successfully between doctors, healthcare providers and nations about how to treat patients, but it also exposed many fault lines in how big data is gathered and deployed in healthcare, such as poor record keeping and weak communication.[4]

Leveraging wearable tech

As well as healthcare, big data has a significant role to play in health insurance, with wearable technology being the most effective tool in the data-gathering process.

Wearable technology – such as step-counters, heart-rate monitors, and smartwatches – is estimated to be an US$81.5 billion industry, and it’s hoped that the many devices out there recording data could change the dynamic between health insurers and their policy holders.[5]

But how? Introducing wearable technology could provide data that helps identify individual risks people might face, in advance of actually facing them. This in turn helps prevent illness and disease by incentivising better health and more targeted well-being behaviours. This would additionally make health insurance more affordable as predictability could reduce claims and administrative costs.[6]

Cigna’s effort now and in the future

Cigna is again at the forefront of these developments, and is working with several outside partners to develop wearable technology. These pilot projects are focused on better measuring stress and whether data from wearable technology can replace the extensive form filling traditionally relied upon to underwrite health insurance applications.

Cigna’s investment in wearable technology and big data is another step towards Cigna being not just your health insurer, but your Whole Health partner as well.


[1] Cigna  -"Data has the potential to gain us more in life years than inventing new drugs."

[2] Cigna - “Data is everything” - Interview with Emiliy Mailes

[3] Cigna - “Data is everything” - Interview with Emiliy Mailes

[4] Cigna - “Data is everything” - Interview with Emily Mailes

[5] Cigna  - “The Future of Wearables in Insurance”

[6] Cigna  - “The Future of Wearables in Insurance”

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