Geisinger's Nicholas Marko: Why health systems need chief data officers [Q&A]

The dual role of CIOs is becoming 'progressively split'

While data and technology in healthcare have a synergistic relationship, by no means should they be considered the same thing, according to Geisinger Health System Chief Data Officer Nicholas Marko.

"It used to be that the limiting step for using and accessing your information was the technology that it's stored on," Marko (pictured), who also serves as director of neurosurgical oncology at the Danville, Pennsylvania-based provider, tells FierceHealthIT. "But this is where the idea for an information technology department came from; we said that it's about the infrastructure and also about the information that's on it, but the technology part of things is really the central focus."

In part one of this exclusive, two-part interview, Marko shares his thoughts on the buzz and origins of "big data," as well as the importance of chief data officers for provider organizations.

FierceHealthIT: Many in healthcare say the term "big data" is overused; what do you think?

Marko: I agree. I think big data has become a buzz phrase and that, in many ways, it misses the point of what we are focused on.

The interesting thing about big data is, I feel like it was a term that was really popularized because vendors in all industries--not just healthcare--like return. It makes a lot of sense if you're someone who happens to sell large-scale data storage or data management platforms. It's particularly attractive to someone who happens to sell devices that store and move raw data--ones and zeros.

It sounds funny, but if someone who was an end user or consumer of the information had coined the term, it would probably be something like "big knowledge" or "big information." It sounds awkward coming off the tongue, which is probably why they didn't do it.

The idea of focusing on the word "data" makes it less about the information content and more about the raw stuff being stored on the disk. I think that's why people like myself find the term "big data" to be a little bit misleading. What I'm more focused on is the insight to be gained from utilizing that data.

FHIT: What's the difference, then, between big data and other data?

Marko: A concept that everyone can agree on is that information is being generated at a progressively faster pace. There's also a cultural change around information, which is, it used to be that we threw away a lot of information that was created or generated as a secondary part of our transactional business. There's a lot of metadata and secondary information that is created as a byproduct of primary functions.

It was always expensive to store that stuff, and so people just threw it away. But now that it's cheaper to store that information and it's relatively easy to use that information, people are keeping it for longer periods of time. I think that's the concept that underlies the big data revolution.