Why sharing big data is such a big challenge

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future health index

Jun 08, 2016 - reading time 4 mins

By Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa

Chairman Health & Global Policy Institute


Dr Kiyoshi Kurokawa is Chairman of the Health and Global Policy Institute

By Dr. Kiyoshi KurokawaClick here to read less

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Big data is a concept often talked about, but, as yet, in the healthcare world, little acted on.

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For example, in Japan, there is a wealth of modern technology, but no real way for it all to connect together. Every system and every piece of equipment operates independently and, therefore, inefficiently. Basically, any person can go to any healthcare provider at any time for any reason – they can go to one doctor today, a different hospital tomorrow, another one after that.


There is no flow in a patient’s care, no linking of data, no one gatekeeper collaborating whether a patient has already had a certain test, whether they need another one. This is both unsustainably expensive, and – for both provider and patient – an unacceptably bad level of care.


Instead, we should be following the example of innovative schemes in the US, such as the Kaiser Health Group, which uses the cloud to unify access to data. With all details in one place, there is no need for practitioners to do multiple tests or unnecessary procedures, and as a result, there is quicker, cheaper, and more patient-friendly care.


So why, with such manifest benefits, are governments, providers and patients – both in Japan and across the world not adopting it?


Firstly, because of deep-rooted cultural anchors, where doctors and professors are often idolized and societies are scared to challenge to idea that only they have access to healthcare information. The only way to cast off this anchor is to ensure total data transparency, where everyone in the health spectrum – from patient to physician to community carer – can see and understand relevant data.


This will not be easy, however. Many healthcare systems, particularly in industrialized countries with systems established decades ago, are not physically set up to cope with data sharing. The practical side of this can be overcome by investing in new technology, but harder to change is people’s minds.


Many governments are potentially wary of creating new data-sharing policies at a time when privacy issues around big data are not fully ironed out. The patient plays a part in bringing about more fluid data sharing, too, as ever advancing health technology – from fitness trackers to diabetes apps – gives them greater information about their health. Currently, however, the Future Health Index proves the level of this sharing is low, perhaps due to reservations about privacy issues, or perhaps due to fear of reprisals if data shows they are not taking action to improve their health.


Adding an extra layer of complexity to the adoption of data-sharing is the fear that by giving a patient increased knowledge of their health, this can also increase litigation against healthcare providers. Why was a condition not identified earlier through data-tracking? Why was a spike in insulin not detected? Already battling stretched financial resources, it’s perhaps only natural that governments and healthcare systems think it’s easier to keep data away from patients.


Clearly, these barriers will take time and considerable effort to overcome, but it is critical this does not deter us. By continuing to educate and by continuing to innovate, governments, healthcare providers and patients can all learn that for healthcare systems to survive the surging demands of population growth and chronic disease, they must not only recognize the importance of data sharing, but embrace it.

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