Big Data makes quite the revolution in Healthcare
12 June 2017 | Share it on social networks
Innovation in technosciences is spreading fast in all medical fields. As the number of articles on these new technologies increases in Europe, the media and political coverage remains surprisingly low. These new technologies known as NBIC (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology, Cognitive technology) are expanding at an exponential rate, and will change the core practices in medicine in the next few years.
The Big Data revolution, for example offers many interesting opportunities in Healthcare. Over the last few years there has been much progress made in our ability to generate and collect data on a daily basis in everything we do. Above all, our ability to analyze and understand that data has radically changed. Big Data is helping Healthcare to become more efficient, as it is used to predict epidemics, cure illness, avoid preventable diseases and, more generally to improve life quality. Health decisions, medical choices and models of treatment are increasingly data-driven.
Complex softwares are being developed to assist physicians, helping them to make decisions taking into account millions of health data sets produced by patients and gathered by health workers or connected objects. These new solutions can analyse our weight, our heart rate, our family history, or possibly our DNA profile. Whereas a doctor could spend weeks to make a diagnosis, they could give the same results within minutes. Aggregating population health data sets into big-data algorithms is a major help for physicians to tailor treatments and make decisions on the best available information.
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and IBM have shown the deepest interest in the subject, and great capacity in providing innovating solutions. Health has now become a very favorable market for Big data, and a very profitable business. This of course gives a big incentive for developers and companies to develop a large ecosystem on startups. Giant and startups from Silicon Valley have already taken leadership in this revolution, but Europe also has its role to play, and is already starting to make contributions. As an example, three hospitals in London have recently provided Deepmind (Google) with healthcare data of up to 1.6 million patients, in order to improve their diagnostics on diseases.
The drawback of this important and useful progress is the threat to our private lives: just how much of our individual freedom and private life are we willing to sacrifice in order to enjoy the perks of big data in return? And how can we ensure that the collected data is safe? Privacy and security issues are major concerns. Wider effects of individual data collections are likely to arise, particularly in the insurance industry. By providing more and more accurate and up-to-date information on every individual, risks are more and more individualized. Yet, risk pooling in uncertain environments is the very basis of the insurance principle. Last but not least, using these technologies requires both technical expertise and leadership. Big Data is not only about the size of the information collected: it’s our ability to transform the data into wisdom which is key, and this requires a very specialized skill set.
Training health professionals towards these new practices is an urgent matter. How many medical students, even in their last years of university have ever heard about these new technologies? Citizens and politicians must also embrace these points in order to think about the proper regulatory conditions which must be applied at an international level. The breakneck speed of innovations and their complexity generally exceed the limited knowledge of politicians and public opinions. Not mastering these topics means a risk of shutting down these technologies from modern democratic processes. Not investing or not creating the right conditions for a true European ecosystem with actors committed to developing these technologies means taking the risk of leaving all power to the strong American corporations. Europe must now confirm its commitment to these technologies as well.