I popped up to Leeds Uni last week to attend the LIDA research forum. This was part launch event (showing off their purpose-built research facility, complete with “safe data room” and training suite) and networking event (an opportunity for the Big Data community to collaborate).
LIDA is a multimillion pound initiative to “connect academic research from all disciplines with external partners in business, government and the third sector; matching the world class capabilities of University research with the needs and opportunities of local organisations.” Its success relies on interdisciplinary working: blending different backgrounds, datasets and worldviews to create intellectual synergies that might otherwise go unharvested.
Infographic: the Social Geography of Supermarket Grocery Purchasing in Leeds (Consumer Data Research Centre)
And whilst there were a number of interesting speakers, it was Professor Andrew Morris’ talk on Data intensive biomedical and health research which captured my imagination. An engaging presenter, he focussed on tangible outcomes resulting from big data in healthcare scenarios – turning what could have been a rather dry topic into an enjoyable half hour.
The challenge for healthcare
- Bill Gates is quoted as saying Healthcare is the last major industry not to be transformed by the information age. Healthcare operates at just 60% efficiency according to McKinsey.
- The ageing population creates a chronic disease challenge. Most elderly people have multiple illnesses (multimorbidity) but healthcare has a single disease focus. The patients he sees in his diabetes clinic on a Friday more often than not have just seen other consultants for example in ophthalmology and cardiology earlier in the week. Sequential and siloed care.
- Austerity means “double jeopardy” in the NHS: the need to deliver better quality care at reduced cost.
- It takes around 17 years for a biological discovery to be translated through clinical trials & innovation into great care. Using data can accelerate this process. The two gaps in translation are embracing technology for machine learning and data analysis.
- He talked about the first digital revolution being about connectivity. America ‘won’ this – the fact most of us have used Google, Facebook or Apple in the past hour is testament to this.
- The second revolution concerns data analytics: how we use data in real time across public services to enhance peoples’ lives & drive economic benefit. The UK is uniquely well placed to ‘win’ this because of our strengths in cross-disciplinary working. Interdisciplinarity (don’t you love that word?) relies on having organisations the right size – “being small enough to get the right people in one room” – easily possible in commissioning areas like Scotland or Yorkshire.
Morris gave a couple of great examples from NHS Scotland:
- Using our unique NHS number to link data & follow the journey of care. Bringing together emergency care records, primary care records and a nationwide radiology archive to create a longitudinal serial database. The combined power of the database gives real time information to all hospitals (patients/prescribing/digital imaging). The outcome? Clinicians make better decisions. A diabetes specialist, his ambition is to reduce the number of amputations and eradicate blindness as a result of diabetes in Scotland before he retires.
- Harnessing data-rich imaging records (e.g. CT scans). They have moved to a single supplier for scanners, and these are calibrated to produce a single data record across multiple sites. The outcome? 1 in 4 diagnoses are improved for patients presenting at hospital with heart pain.
He ended on an inspiring note: Moore’s law means that computing power will only improve. In 2003 it took 300 scientists 15 years and $3 billion to map one genome. In 2015 it takes 3 scientists a single day and $1000. Real-time, adaptive personalised medicine is now a less distant prospect.
So much of the discussion around big data is – let’s face it – dry, intangible and navel gazing. Morris’ presentation certainly wasn’t, and was the highlight of the day.