Big Data to Build a Stronger and Safer Healthcare System

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A special panel on “Big Data and Healthcare” was organised on September 27th by Re-Imagine Europa in the wake of the Digital with Purpose Global Summit, a three-day conference on digital technologies and sustainability held in Lisbon on September 27th – 29th, 2023.

Introduced and moderated by RIE’s Research and Media Director Luca De Biase, the panel featured Federica Alberti, Director of the Wellness Foundation, Jonathan Andrus, President and Chief Operating Officer of CRIO and member of the board of the Society for Clinical Data Management, and Roberto Trasarti, Leading Project Manager of the SoBigData Research Infrastructure.

“We are currently exploring the uncharted territory of how AI can be exploited to expand the use of clinical data within the borders of regulation. We fully embrace the importance of protecting the privacy of individuals and the risks involved with handling sensitive information that can be extracted from clinical trial data. Precisely for this reason, we need more regular interaction with the legislators, also through meetings and workshops, in particular, to address the complexity of using data collected in different countries which support diverse regulations”, explained Jonathan Andrus when asked what the most relevant challenge that his industry is currently facing is.

“From the point of view of data scientists, it is possible to address these data protection issues on a case-by-case basis”, stated Roberto Trasarti. “By modulating the level of data aggregation, abstraction, and anonymisation, data scientists can usually tailor the most convenient solution to preserve the privacy of the individual patient and the ethical solidity of the whole dataset while keeping available all the details needed to maximise the efficiency of clinical research”. He also presented a more wide-ranging vision about the potential of AI and big datasets to improve our daily lives: “This is an exciting moment for all data scientists because we are on the verge of deciding what’s going to happen in the next years and decades. Our vision and perspective on how AI and big datasets will be developed and used to improve our practices will shape the future of Healthcare, among other sectors, and will contribute to shaping the world for the next years and decades. Identifying use cases and shaping new pilots to pursue concrete solutions is key to start building the future of many industries”.

“Prevention and lifestyle are currently undervalued assets in Healthcare. As everyone can see, unhealthy lifestyles can heavily burden all healthcare systems. The pandemic has shown us the need to switch from focusing on disease treatment to investing in “positive” Healthcare. While healthy lifestyles and habits can help patients avoid hospitalisation, illness and pain, most (97%) of the healthcare budget is currently allocated to treatments. Our foundation contributed to creating a different environment in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna through consistent cooperation with general practitioners and family doctors, in which data and digital tools are crucial in promoting and supporting evidence-based healthy practices”, specified Federica Alberti.

In his role of moderator, Luca De Biase summarised the debate’s conclusions before wrapping up the panel: “The European Health Data Space could provide a virtual research environment in which data from different sources can be intersected with the needs of different stakeholders like the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry but also regular citizens to achieve significant improvements in healthcare practices. Citizens well understand the impact of data on their daily lives, and now a clear vision must be defined to enable this and other crucial sectors to surpass the existing barriers and build new frameworks that would benefit research but also prevention, education, and clinical practice”.