Mining treasures for better health

Mining treasures for better health

Peter Schardt, CTO, Siemens Healthineers
Veröffentlicht: 21. Jan. 2021, Linkedin

It is crucial for the healthcare sector to define how to manage and operationalize the access, processing, and storage of health data. Let’s not forget that the focus should not be on data ownership as such, but on rule-based access to health data.

I bought my first computer about 35 years ago, an Atari 520ST programmed with GFA – a dialect of BASIC. It’s just incredible how technology has improved since then. Especially when we think of the increase in computing power and data transmission. The internet catapulted data processing into the age of network intelligence. Nonetheless, in certain areas, there is still some catching up to do. Let me give you an example: A few weeks ago, I went to a radiologist and they faxed the diagnostic result to my attending physician… That reminded me of a few years back when I lived in the United States, where I truly appreciated the experience of having all outcomes of my medical exams stored on my personal electronic record and being able to follow up on my health status.

The good news is that global efforts are underway to adopt electronic medical records to share patient data across health care systems – reducing the risk of information gaps between providers. Yet, there is no internationally recognized format for sharing these records, and there is still a mountain of data that is not being used at all for research, or diagnostic and therapeutic protocols. That’s already reason enough for us to start mining these treasures.

Access to data is the key to creating knowledge 

Already today we have a taste of how innovations help us make sense of all that data and have a positive impact in medicine, supporting healthcare professionals, and benefitting patients and ultimately society. In these unprecedented times, we are all witnessing how the industry is innovating at a tremendous speed to help fight the pandemic.

It’s no secret that there are various data sources containing information that are currently not being leveraged for the necessary medical advances. Many people who fall ill would be eager to prevent others from sharing the same fate. It’s all about investigating the symptoms, and matching information regarding a patient’s lifestyle, their preconditions, and prior treatments. It is like criminology. Every detail matters.

Reliable artificial intelligence will be indispensable to help us translate large amounts of data into valuable information, which then translates into knowledge humans can share. In fact, I am convinced that artificial intelligence will also lead to better access to healthcare, while enabling better diagnoses and therapies, as they become more individualized. This will support physicians in their daily routines and empower people to live healthier lives.

Intelligent networks depend on data flow

Innovation is in our DNA. We have been working on applying artificial intelligence in medical technology for more than 20 years now. As a leader in the digital transformation of healthcare it is imperative that we demand the highest quality standards for everyone involved, so that our products and solutions meet the applicable legal and regulatory requirements worldwide. We are even exceeding these requirements. This is especially true for the handling of data used in the development and training of algorithms, as well as for our quality assurance procedures.

Tomorrow, smarter sensors will be able to deliver even more data. Edge computing and local artificial intelligence will most likely be able to extract more information from the data that is provided from patients and devices. In the medium and long term, I believe these intelligent medical systems will be able to talk to each other and be combined into networks. This will result in even greater improvements for medical practice. And smart, interconnected systems will be able to better support medical staff and their patients.

An ecosystem to manage rule-based access to health data

It should be non-negotiable and crystal clear: their individual health data belongs to the patients. People should decide where it is stored, and who can access, and process it. In other words: To make digital health and artificial intelligence scalable, we need to improve transparency and traceability, and make it understandable for everyone involved. Our team is committed to creating a trustworthy ecosystem for sharing health data – as we believe in the fundamental principles of healthcare as reflected in Hippocrates‘ famous oath.

The current debate on how the healthcare sector manages and operationalizes access to, processing, and storage of health data is extremely important. Let’s not forget that the focus isn’t on data ownership as such, but on rule-based access to health data that can be further processed by authorized third parties. In my opinion, this requires a documented purpose as well as the patient’s consent – and the appropriate infrastructure for managing data. This means that people can benefit from insights into the purposeful use of their health data over time. Such access and use of health data should be overseen by one or more non-governmental and non-profit institutions.

We are already supporting patients today to safely share their health data. Our decentralized electronic health record enables patients to give their physicians access to their longitudinal health data. The patient is in full control and decides whom to share the data with. The precondition is the consistent implementation of the highest standards of data protection and cybersecurity – with no compromises. This creates the necessary ecosystem of trust, as we all have a shared responsibility to protect health data.

Run artificial intelligence while protecting peoples’ sovereignty

Simplified and improved interoperability of health data has several advantages. Better access to health data basically fosters more cooperation and competition in the healthcare system – thus increasing overall efficiency and effectiveness. Consequently, there will be more information available to the benefit of everyday medical practice, research, and development. I am confident that this is one way to improve transparency and traceability, and ultimately support individuals to become more confident in managing their own health.

I welcome regional initiatives that foster both. In March 2020, as part of the MyHealthEData initiative, the U.S. Department of Human Services issued new rules to implement interoperability and patient access. A core aspect is the patients’ control of their electronic health information. In February 2020, the European Commission proposed European Health Data Space, an initiative to accelerate the pace of digitalization in European health systems.

January 28th is European data protection day. It reminds us to continue this important discussion and consider both access to quality data as well as how this is used and shared. By translating these principles of accessing health data into the real world, we could boost innovative solutions and unleash the true potential of artificial intelligence. What would be the outcome of all these efforts? Far beyond what I imagined possible 35 years ago as I used my first computer, that is for sure!

I think this video depicts the future of healthcare very well:

 

Patients expect their diseases to be diagnosed and treated as objectively as possible with the best knowledge available worldwide. By implementing a rule-based, purposeful access to health data, we will be able to generate tremendous value for medicine and healthcare delivery. But first and foremost, unlike in other industries, we must make sure we do it right. In the end, we are dealing with people’s lives.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!