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April 3, 2018

Big Data and Machine Learning in Health Care

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2018;319(13):1317-1318. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.18391

Nearly all aspects of modern life are in some way being changed by big data and machine learning. Netflix knows what movies people like to watch and Google knows what people want to know based on their search histories. Indeed, Google has recently begun to replace much of its existing non–machine learning technology with machine learning algorithms, and there is great optimism that these techniques can provide similar improvements across many sectors.

It is no surprise then that medicine is awash with claims of revolution from the application of machine learning to big health care data. Recent examples have demonstrated that big data and machine learning can create algorithms that perform on par with human physicians.1 Though machine learning and big data may seem mysterious at first, they are in fact deeply related to traditional statistical models that are recognizable to most clinicians. It is our hope that elucidating these connections will demystify these techniques and provide a set of reasonable expectations for the role of machine learning and big data in health care.

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