Daniel Neagu is Professor of Computing and Head of Computer Science at the University of Bradford. We caught up with him and asked him about the importance of digital data in a modern, effective National Health Service – here is what he told us.
Data – the essential asset
Data plays a crucial role within the NHS. Digital health data can be used for research, to help patients self-manage conditions, and to provide a point of record for an individual. Patients who use a wearable device or an app to access their own data can become more educated about themselves and their condition or general health.
Patients can use digital health data to update their doctor on the effectiveness of treatment, a care plan or medicine. This is especially useful for those living with long term conditions.
Collected and combined, health data can also be used in order to improve the quality and optimization of the NHS services around issues such as staffing, waiting times and the budget deficit.
The future of data
In the future, digital health data will be considered an asset for both the NHS and the patient. It is a great source of background knowledge. Data can tell you so much about yourself – your blood type, your genetics, whether you’re at risk to certain diseases because of your ethnicity, weight or hereditary background. Data on genetics can tell you if anything may affect your child and future generations, so it extends beyond just you and it is a very valuable resource.
Key to research
Data is also an asset for others, in cases of disease and certain conditions having the data available may help decide which treatments are best or which medicine is most effective. Personalised medicine is again part of what the NHS can do to optimise the quality of service to patients and they can do this through digital health data. It can help tailor medicines to a specific individual.
Data has a vital role in research. By gathering data researchers can determine the blueprint for conditions. I recently read about Alzheimer’s Research UK who have teamed up with scientists from University College London and the University of East Anglia to develop Sea Hero Quest, a smartphone game which when played allows the researchers to gather data on dementia – 2.5 million people are said to have downloaded and played the game which is equal to 63 years of traditional data gathering!
I know there are a lot of concerns about data sharing. For me, personally, I don’t mind. I am happy to share my personal health data providing it is being used in the right way and for what I agree for it to be used for.
Data sharing is beneficial for researchers and data generated through studies is crucial in providing answers around diseases and in developing medicines and treatments. So it is necessary for us to share our data in that sense or at least help contribute by providing information.
In regards to electronic health records (EHR) I think if concerns about sharing, cyber threats and security was dealt with and the information properly protected, it would be a great personal resource to have. At the moment with everything being paper based it is time consuming to access health information about you. EHR would be a great resource for not only patients but also doctors.
How do you feel about your health data being used for research? What checks and balances do you think are important to have for data to be used safely and securely? What are your concerns about the rise in digital health data?