Data can be the key to improving Scotland’s health

A focus on data could prove to be the key in improving the nation's health. Picture: TSPL

A focus on data could prove to be the key in improving the nation's health. Picture: TSPL

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OVER the past century healthcare systems have made steady progress in extending healthy life years based on medical innovations such as vaccines, antibiotics, transplants, implants and drugs, increasing average life expectancy by two years every decade.

This longevity dividend is not equally distributed, however, and we now need to turn our attention to the impact of social conditions and individual behaviours which are estimated to account for more than 50 per cent of individual health outcomes and over 80 per cent of healthcare costs.

Only by doing this can we reduce the risks to our health that lead to long-term conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are placing our health and social care systems under increasing pressure.

To achieve this we need to collaborate across organisational boundaries – public health agencies, primary care, secondary care, local government, private and not-for-profit care providers, and family.

Advanced analytics and cognitive computing, working with large and diverse data sets, can uncover patterns related to behavioural and social determinants of health. Subsets of the population at particularly high risk can be identified and collaborative care platforms can be used to assess needs, plan and manage services as well as measure progress and improvement.

These innovations will also lead, in time, to much more personalised medicine, with individuals being offered treatments and care pathways which are more likely to be effective for them. The ability to scan recent research findings and review similar cases in real-time will further improve decision making.

They will also support re-design of how our care services work, and the gap often found in care transitions, eg continuity of care after discharge from hospital to home.

Digital and e-health experts are gathering at Edinburgh Napier University to further the progress of data’s role in improving health and social care. The Napier team will showcase work going on in Scotland supporting the sharing of data across the public sector.

• John Crawford, Healthcare Industry Leader Europe, IBM, is speaking at the Symposium on Big Data and Risk Assessors in Health and Social Care, at Edinburgh Napier University today

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