The Power of Big Data

 The Moreton Lecturer urged radiologists to think creatively about data that could shape their field.


Moreton Lecturer Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, discusses his innovative approach to healthcare research with ACR 2018 attendees.

 "Think broadly, think differently, be open-minded,” said economist and physician Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, who presented this year’s Moreton Lecture. Jena’s address discussed the role of “natural experiments” in healthcare research. What is a natural experiment? Essentially, it’s an everyday occurrence that yields randomized data that can impact healthcare standards, practices, and even policy.

 One example of a natural experiment, according to Jena, is the effect of Marathon Monday. Jena displayed a picture of the Boston Marathon and asked the audience, “What’s the first idea, research or otherwise, that comes to mind when you see this photo?” When attendees began to discuss the marathoners’ potential health issues, Jena challenged them to dig deeper and think differently about topics that they might have some inherent understanding about but hadn’t considered in a more open-minded way. Jena eventually revealed that his research focused on the health effects on people who lived in the marathon zone and not the marathoners themselves. Due to road closures associated with the marathon, there was a 20- to 30-percent increase in EMS transport time on the morning of the race. Jena noted that as a result, “Medicare beneficiaries who go into cardiac arrest or have a heart attack on the day of a major U.S. marathon have about a 15 percent increase in 30-day mortality once they get to the hospital.”
Natural experiments such as this, Jena said, can tell us something about how the world works, how doctors think, or how patients behave. “The idea here is not that we should not hold the Boston Marathon or other marathons but that we should think a little more about spillover effects,” he said. “It’s about using big data, thinking about causality, and using data and methods from economics to think through these issues.”
So what does it all mean for radiology? Jena urged attendees to use a natural experiment to try to understand something about the value of imaging. “Do it for the benefit of your patients, your profession, and yourselves,” said Jena.

By Cary Coryell, publications specialist, ACR Bulletin

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