RWD Systems Blog
Industry News 11/11/2018

Data Collection and Analysis in Healthcare Systems

Doctor using tablet

The healthcare systems of the developed world have been collecting and storing patient data for decades. As they become digitised and analysable, these patient records could shed light on many useful topics: the spread of disease epidemics could be divined by looking at inpatient appointments. Information about the efficacy of medications will be gathered on scale that the devisers of medical trials could previously only dream of.

How much healthcare data is out there?

The size of the healthcare data sets is beyond astronomical. It is estimated that data from the US healthcare system will shortly pass one zettabyte (that’s 10²¹ gigabytes – nearly as much information as the entire World Wide Web contained at the end of 2016). Datasets of this gargantuan size need new data management tools.

What data is collected?

Patient records form the core of the data. Not long ago, this was a few scribbled notes by your GP, but in recent years this has expanded exponentially. In their landmark paper Big Data Analytics in Healthcare: Promise and Potential, Wullianallur and Viju Raghupathi list the following as making up the “…totality of data related to patient healthcare and wellbeing…”:

  • Physicians’ written notes
  • Vaccination records
  • Prescriptions
  • Medical imaging
  • Laboratory data
  • Insurance records
  • Machine generated data (the monitoring of vital signs in hospitals)
  • Social media posts (tweets, blogs and status updates regarding health)

How is it analysed?

The digitisation and analysis of these combined healthcare data sets has only recently begun to be undertaken. Once the raw data is assembled it can then be sorted into formats that can be read by data analysis platforms and tools. By careful analysis of the data, healthcare professionals hope to improve their understanding of outcomes and use that information to improve patient wellbeing. 

What are the ethics of healthcare data collection?

Nobody wants their personal medical records read – analysis should focus on anonymised population data. In many cases, the analytics engines don’t need the details of a particular person. They have been programmed to examine the effectiveness of a particular course of treatment across the population. However, if there is any kind of link to the original records – privacy and security will be a concern for the individuals that are the source of the data set. Patients should have some control over who has access to their data and how it is used. But they won’t get these rights unless they demand them. 

How will all this play out?

Expect to see the widespread implementation of healthcare data analytics. Not just on population data. Patients going into surgery in the new generation of private clinics that are gradually replacing the NHS will be looking up doctor’s records before choosing their surgeon. For all the talk of patient welfare, big data analysis is likely to be used to reduce costs before it is used to improve wellbeing.

At RWD Systems, we design bespoke data management platforms that are tailored to your individual requirements. Perhaps you have a data set but you are unsure of how to extract and analyse the valuable information that it contains? We can help. We will build you a user-friendly platform that you and your staff can use to access and understand your data. Email for more information.