As technology continues to advance, our ability to collect data on nearly every aspect of our lives has improved exponentially. While amassing large amounts of data has become easier, the question of how that data can be used is still being determined. The hope is that the vast volume of data, often referred to as "big data," can be analyzed and mined to help solve major problems in healthcare and in business. Yet most of the discussions about big data focus on what it holds for the future, and not about how big data is influencing decision-makers today. With conversations about big data generally addressing its future uses, many fundamental questions are going unanswered. The goal of this year's conference, titled "How are Decision Makers Using Big and Small Data Now?", is to define what big data is and what it means to various stakeholders in healthcare by taking status of how decision-makers are using big data now. Conference attendees will gain a greater understanding of how big data is being utilized today by public and private health systems, major employers, providers, insurers, and consumers. Each conference speaker will present the evidence on how his or her organization is using (or not using) big data and will explain what their experiences have been thus far. The focus on big data as part of health IT is of great interest to the Agency for Healthcare Research &Quality and this conference will be addressing key areas of strategic importance to AHRQ. AHRQ's health information technology (health IT) initiative was created to "put information technology to work" in health care and has funded contracts and grants to see how health IT can improve the quality and safety of patient-centered healthcare. This conference will address topics that relate to AHRQ-funded projects, including how big data and health IT are impacting quality measures and how EHRs can be used for effective clinical decision support. We have established collaborations for this conference with public and private organizations that have an important stake, or can be an important resource, for addressing our themes. Veterans Health Administration, the University of Pennsylvania, and Kaiser Permanente have agreed to play lead roles in this conference. Health Affairs, another co-sponsor, is planning a themed issue to coordinate with the conference. This conference, as like those in past years, will have an in-person audience that we estimate will be between 300 to 500 with additional participants following the proceedings over the Web in real-time. The conference's themes and its emphasis on examining the evidence make it one of great value and importance to the current healthcare climate and to AHRQ and its on-going initiatives.
Big data has become a buzzword within healthcare and has increasingly been called a cure all for many chronic problems in healthcare, such as cost, quality, and effectiveness. Yet much of what is being discussed is hype and not actuality. ECRI Institute's 20th annual conference on the use of evidence in policy and practice seeks to distinguish the hype from how big data is being used now by decision-makers in healthcare to address specific and significant issues. The conference will also consider the potential of big data, but in a measured way.