Data is the new blood

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This article is part of our special report Big data revolution and EU healthcare.

“Data is the new blood”. The expression was heard at a recent e-health conference where health data and patient control took centre stage in the discussions revolving around innovation driving a more personalised approach and better outcome in healthcare, writes Wolfgang Mähr.

Wolfgang Mähr is the head of the supervisory board at Alliance Healthcare Deutschland. This opinion piece is published ahead of “Big data: connected solutions for better healthcare” conference at The Hotel, Brussels, on 25 – 26 January 2017.

The expression was used in a comparison between data donation and blood donation and how both are an absolute necessity to medicine today, but it applies in a greater sense: the rise of data and big data analytics in healthcare is transforming our sector, offering new insights in patient treatment and care through information we simply could not aggregate or even access just a few years ago.

Big data analytics is the injection of new techniques, approaches and partnerships to unlock innovative solutions and radically improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare.

The 21st century is said to have become the century of data: 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone, at 2.5 quintillion bytes of data.

The GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), wearables and the 2.2 million mobile application available (300,000 of which are health-apps) create terabytes of data every minute of the day and IBM Watson is predicting that, with the rise of genomic medicine, an average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime, the equivalent of 300 million books.

The question now is: how will big data, merged with artificial intelligence, transform our daily lives and how will it benefit our healthcare systems?

Besides the phenomenal development of artificial intelligence and powerful computing and analytics capabilities, innovations in the healthcare sector such as digital imaging, sensor technology or robotics, to name but a few, have revolutionised patient care and in a broader sense, healthcare systems, offering solutions to monitor, prevent, and more generally improve health and care.

To further foster the movement, a structured and intelligible regulatory framework ought to be rapidly put in place to adapt to the fast rise of solutions offered and eliminate the barriers to the growth of e-health, ultimately developed for the patient benefit.

Data safety, data quality, harmonisation and interoperability are a strong focus in the debate around future regulations to allow for cross-border data-flow in Europe, a leading priority of the Estonian presidency at the EU council.

The push is supported by Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner of health and food safety, who said: “we should be more ambitious and aim to share a more complete set of patient data cross-border and foster solutions which give citizens secure access to their health data, wherever they are.”

Starting from the assumption that in the future stakeholders like hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, manufacturers and many more will be increasingly connected, patient data across sectors and hopefully across Europe will be available for more efficient processes and better decisions in the respective areas of cure, treatment, medication and even administration as well as better products – sometimes even personalised medicines.

Super-computers that are fed medication information, genome sequences, clinical trial outcomes, scientific papers, imaging diagnostics, etc… will help healthcare professionals to detect, diagnose and even predict illnesses or specific risks: Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy after having learned she carried the BRCA1 gene and the statistical consequences raised public understanding of the possibilities of safe data use.

Predictions like disease patterns, epidemics, disease outbreaks will be possible and enhanced.

In a connected healthcare-setting, healthcare professionals and stakeholders including pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare distributors and pharmacists will be enabled to empower patients through individualised services. Adherence services for instance that very much rely on data will substantially improve outcomes of medication therapy.

More or less real-time detection of medication side effects, interactions as well as feedback on medication will bring further improvement to treatment, void unnecessary costs and support the build of sustainable, equitable healthcare systems.

With the help of big data and specifically predictive analysis, the availability of medicines across countries and along the supply chain will be improved substantially. Healthcare distributors, who already today work hand in hand with the other supply chain partners, will be enabled to even better predict demand and allocate products.

Predictive modelling of biological processes will enable the pharma companies to gather completely new insights. In this new world of interconnected healthcare providers, the development of new medications will migrate from isolated research activities to an exchange between many functions like clinical development, research organisations, universities, physicians, patients etc.

Individualised or personalised medicine will play an increasing role in an efficient medication therapy across multiple conditions. Big data will also lead to a better understanding of the value of treatments and medications enabling value-based pricing models.

Even though big data in some areas has already totally changed the way of living., there is still a lot of unlocked potential in the healthcare sector. I strongly believe that an ethical and intelligent use of big data will improve every citizens life.

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