• Big Data
  • Cloud, data, research partnership with Google to tackle Autism

    As EHRs and Big Data expand, they enhance the potential to provide data for research. A USA initiative between Google and Autism Speaks, a major autism research foundation, says a report by the Wall Street Journal. The project will store Google, Autism Speaks’ data on the sequencing of 10,000 complete genomes and other clinical data of children with autism and their siblings and parents. Researchers working on autism hope to accelerate their research.

    DNA databases need massive computing, storage and tools capacity that exceeds many universities’ and research hospitals’ facilities. Placing it with Google overcomes these limitation as part of AUT10K, the Autism Speaks genome-mapping programme. The plan is to provide researchers with a portal by June 2015. Access to raw data may be available earlier.

    There’s a considerable workload to structure the data for users. This accounts for the development time. There are also concerns over privacy and security: a common issue for new eHealth ventures. These need fixing before they become a problem.

    If the initiative succeeds, it provides a model for healthcare and health charities in African countries to work with their national and regional research bodies to pursue similar goals.

  • Big data, twitter and HIV: it's new, and on its way

    With the large health burden of HIV in Africa, a research study from the USA seems to offer a new opportunity to monitor HIV risk transmission. It’s reported in Science Direct, and says over 9,800 geolocated HIV-related tweets from 2009 showed a significant positive relationship between HIV-related tweets and HIV cases. It suggests the feasibility of using social networking data to evaluate and detect HIV risk behaviours and outcomes. A suggestion is a modest conclusion, so the research team from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) proposes more analysis before converting the findings into operational big data.

    The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) financed the study. It would be good if it continued its support. It has valuable opportunities for African countries.

  • Analytics and informatics tick a lot of boxes

    As healthcare continues to grapple with informatics, analytics is a growing activity as big data starts to take hold. With all the excitement of the potential of big data and interoperability to solve all the problems in world, or maybe not quite, ehna thought that a simple distinction between analytics and informatics is worth it.

    Analytics is the search for, discovery and communication of meaningful patterns derived from correlations in data. It relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research. Algorithms and software needed for analytics need advanced computer capacities and functions.

    The potential of analytics increases with the volume of rich recorded data. Where there are mountains of it, especially from several sources, analytics is very valuable. Organizations can use analytics to delve into business and consumer data to describe, predict, and improve customer behaviour and business performance. In healthcare, it can identify the progress of diseases in populations, patients’ conditions, comorbidities and needs and the effect of different drugs and treatments on outcomes. There are many more uses.

    Analytics underpins big data; working with massive and complex data sets that cannot be processed by database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The availability of huge data sets of near infinity-byte sized chunks from various sources enables the search for correlations, often of the most unexpected kind. These can demolish executives’ and policy-makers’ ideas and perceptions drawn from traditions, judgement that have lacked access to these new, big data facts. For healthcare, it is important that analytics deals with a wide range of sources from other spheres and does not restrict itself to narrow healthcare data that only needs analysis.

    Analytics includes descriptive and predictive models using data analysis to produce new knowledge from data. It uses these insights to support decision-making and communication. This bit goes beyond analysis.

    Informatics is the science of information. It includes data definitions, interoperability, information architecture, information processing, and systems engineering. It goes beyond information and includes the interaction between humans and information system and computer interfaces.

    Growth in many types of computers, and their use by people and organizations created the digital world. A result is the promotion of informatics alongside computer, mathematical and computer studies.

    A health informatics definition is “The knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and promote health.” It comes from Making Information Count: A Human Resources Strategy for Health Informatics Professionals Department of Health UK October 2002. Health informatics can include medical, healthcare, nursing, clinical and biomedical informatics.

    Wikipedia is a good start point to find out more about analytics and informatics. As usual, it provides a wide range of sources.

    Can we have one without the other? No. Do we need to invest in both? Yes. Will they both transform healthcare? Yes, eventually, but by then, something cleverer will probably come along.

  • Big initiative for big data for better health

    Infinity seems to be the limit for big data. In November 2013, the White House invited the MedRed BT Health Cloud (MBHC) collaborative to unveil its ideas as part of the Launch New Big Data Health Initiative. The aim of the Project is to Create One of the World’s Largest Open Health Data Repositories in Order to Help Improve Quality Care, Enhance Patient Safety, and Speed Development of Innovative Drugs and Medical Technologies, a big title.  MedRed and BT are the two MBHC parties.

    MBHC is a multiyear, transatlantic effort to make available one of the largest open health data repositories in the world. It aims to integrate data from several years of de-identified population health data from Great Britain and many other UK sources. It features data such as physician encounters, acute care interventions, pharmacy history, and health outcomes data from the USA and the addition of advanced analytics. This offers potential to quicken the development of products and practices that will advance healthcare and improve the health and well-being of people globally.

    Pharmaceutical companies and universities already use a beta version of MBHC using the BT Cloud Compute platform to help develop new drugs, identify new indications for existing therapies, correlate outcomes, examine comparative effectiveness, and establish best care practices.

    Does the MBHC model offer a blueprint for Africa? Big data analyses are costly, with high potential benefits, and beyond the resources of most African countries. Collaboration between ICT entities from a few African countries with relatively high levels of eHealth investment may offer a start. As other African countries develop their eHealth, it may offer scope to make African big data bigger.

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