Big data can be defined as the daunting accumulation of abundant and diverse information. While recording data is the first step to measure progress or quickly identify an issue, the large amount of information collected can make it difficult to analyze.
At the University of Minnesota, one of the main projects using big data is the Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Program. This ongoing project collects veterinary reports and diagnostic results from numerous swine producers on a daily basis. The compiled information is then analyzed, interpreted and reported back as smart data to the participants every week. Smart data is commonly defined as a piece of information useful enough to make educated decisions.
The increasing availability and complexity of data has led to new opportunities and challenges in veterinary epidemiology around how to translate abundant, diverse, and rapidly growing “big” data into meaningful insights for animal health. Big data analytics are used to understand health risks and minimize the impact of adverse animal health issues through identifying high-risk populations, combining data or processes acting at multiple scales through epidemiological modeling approaches, and harnessing high velocity data to monitor animal health trends and detect emerging health threats. The advent of big data requires the incorporation of new skills into veterinary epidemiology training, including, for example, machine learning and coding, to prepare a new generation of scientists and practitioners to engage with big data. Establishing pipelines to analyze big data in near real-time is the next step for progressing from simply having “big data” to create “smart data,” with the objective of improving understanding of health risks, effectiveness of management and policy decisions, and ultimately preventing or at least minimizing the impact of adverse animal health issues.