Transforming Healthcare 2: Data-Driven Health

This post is inspired by #FutureMed.

Imagine being alive early in the 19th Century or earlier. It doesn't matter where in the world you lived, electricity was not delivered to houses. Your world would have been lit by sunlight and, if you were lucky, candles. The day would begin with sunlight and end some time shortly after sundown.  You would travel little outside of your own community.  There were no computers, phones, Internet, EFTPOS cards or X-ray images. This was before the age of hand-washing in hospitals. Imagine the data that health care workers had to deal with then.

And imagine how much data health care professionals have to deal with now.

It's far too much for any one person to handle. Check out this easy-to-understand infographic from Mashable.  We double the amount of information we create every two years.  With the amount of data we're creating at the moment (1.8 Zettabytes in 2011, so 3.6 ZB this year), we quickly need a way of turning it into something more useful. If you think about the number of emails you receive a day, the papers you read, the work you do and tracking of websites surfed, there is a phenomenal amount of information created and accessed. Every. Single. Day. Imagine that on a global scale. Imagine how difficult it is to make sense of this in your own life, let alone in collaboration.

Now imagine this in healthcare - clinics, hospitals, individuals, research, pharmaceutical companies.

We need to create systems that manage health data to make it meaningful health information for increasing outcomes across the globe.  The sooner, the better.

We need to disaggregate our systems. Too much information goes into one portal and is completely inaccessible to the next. Think about the exercise tracker you might use that doesn't synch to your health record, the fact that health records currently do not synchronize between health clinics, the calorie calculator you might use that sits separately to all of these systems. Your personal schedule separate again. An insulin pump that doesn't connect to anything else. Specialists who have no easy way of seeing how you went at another appointment. There are so many barriers to effective collaboration between you and all of your health professionals. There are barriers to you receiving and professions delivering the best possible care. All when the data is sitting there waiting for use, not yet information.

Imagine if all of this health data was linked and organised. Imagine if that could be de-identified and put into a pool of health cases to derive cohort and longitudinal studies. Imagine if your data could help drive better health outcomes. Imagine if the systems we used allowed daily feedback to drug companies on effectiveness of their creations, allowing for constant improvement. Imagine if overlaying epidemics and drug use with environmental factors could identify cause of spread and appropriate treatment mechanisms in days rather than weeks or months.

This is not an impossible dream. The tools to do this already exist, it is a matter of reducing red-tape in our health system to allow global collaboration. It is a matter of creating safe and secure networks for analysing the data.  It is a matter of reducing effort into transcribing information from interaction to online by direct voice input or simple short-hand in-house. It is about automating meta-data.

We can apply data to find trends. We can network. We are collaborating. We need to make dreams into reality. There are groups already attempting this. One of them is Scanadu.

We need to integrate patient-centred networks such as Treato with patient records and health care professionals' knowledge banks.  We need professionals to get on board with improving services like PillBox.

When we promote data-driven health through synthesizing what we already have, we can begin solving one of the largest financial burdens facing governments globally. The tools are at our finger tips. It's time for the future to be present.

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