PANEL: How collaboration on data and technology is making medicine smarter

Big data is more commonly associated with helping business make more profit but researchers are reaping enormous benefits benefits in health care and medicine.

The convergence of technology and healthcare is creating opportunities across disciplines, creating partnerships and breakthroughs.

The first step to getting the most out of big data is to get the data itself.

Story continues below. You can watch highlights from the panel here:

Information and knowledge tends to exist and stay in silos, according to Sean Hogan, global vice president of health for IBM, who spoke at a Business Insider event in Sydney, Health & Technology Frontiers, as a member of a panel of experts.

“In some circumstances there hasn’t always been the motivation or interest in sharing that because controlling the knowledge is in part what different individuals and institutions bring to the table,” he says.

And it’s recognising that sharing information is the way to make progress to improving health care.

IBM has worked in Spain and Denmark with teams caring for people with chronic conditions.

“People with multiple chronic conditions are driving demands on the health system,” says Hogan.

“And they are not necessarily getting great outcomes, they are just cycling through the system, we’ve done some work in first just identifying who these people are. It’s not even known sometimes who the high consumers are.

“In Spain, we had to first address regulatory issues with data sharing. Then we were able to focus on engaging with the individual. We have been able to decrease hospitalisations and improve the experience of the individuals, to feel better cared for.”

Professor Ewa M. Goldys, a physicist working in the medical field, says big data is a key to the emerging field of personalised medicine.

“Individuals are different, the biochemistry,” says the Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics.

“This is related to the problem big data. The human body has about 20,000 genes but there are a lot of proteins in the human body, in the millions, many of them undiscovered.

“So to actually understand what a body is doing at a particular instance in time, that requires big data.”

The CSIRO’s David Hansen sees a huge opportunity in big data as Australia moves to electronic medical records for everyone.

“What I find particularly interesting about this whole area is how technology can actually improve health performance of health services, health costs, and as well to improve patient outcomes,” says Hansen. “There is a great synergy between health services and technology.”

The CEO of the Australian e-Health Research Centre says the federal department of Health has been looking at how a good electronic record can improve the health system and improve patient care.

Using this data set, it will be possible to make our health system more efficient and cost effective while at the same time improving services to patients. The federal government has just appointed a board to oversee the new Commission for eHealth.

Patrick Brennan, the Co-Director of BREAST and a professor at the University of Sydney, says data entry and data quality control are really important.

He’s used data from breast screening, which is stored for Australia in one database, to check the radiation levels used to take the images.

“We can now go to centres and say your doses are too high and this is why,” he says. “So big data can really, really be a helpful thing.”

He agrees with the CSIRO’s David Hansen that a centralised electronic health record will be a huge help.

“The problem is that in Australia we’re not that good at it yet,” Brennan says. “If you go to Taiwan, every patient’s record is stored in a single database. And we can go in there and suddenly we can find out that this woman had breast cancer but then she smoked 20 cigarettes and she had a mammographic density of this. In this country it is much, much more difficult. Technology is helping us a lot but there is still some way to go.”