Can data mining be a positive force for healthcare?

July 25, 2018
Data helps to keep us connected and healthy.


In the age of big data, is anything truly private?

Personal data collection has come under more scrutiny this year than ever before, particularly with the introduction of the Global Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which the European Union introduced in May. This is welcome progress, as personal data can be exploited to influence spending and political decisions.

However, while we build protections against the improper use of data, it’s important we remember the role data plays in developing effective healthcare solutions.

Connected health solutions make data collection a positive force.Connected health solutions make data collection a positive force.

How personal data shapes your healthcare

Data mining tools enable a more proactive approach to treatment.

Think about how you define personal data: your browsing history, your conversations – what about your vitals and medical history?

For a long time, personal data has been used by medical practitioners to deliver accurate diagnoses, track recovery from illness and injury and develop tailored treatment plans. Now, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and powerful analytic engines, professionals are able to gather a wider range of data than ever before. These enable a more proactive approach to treatment – helping practitioners identify risks or complications before they escalate, or correlate more nuanced patterns in order to further healthcare research.

The acquisition of personal data plays a wide range of roles in healthcare, ranging from the individual scale to organisational and population levels.

Individual data collection

Monitored health data helps individuals take better control of their own physical wellbeing in ways that go beyond visible or obvious symptoms. Think about wearable smart devices; worn on your wrist, an Apple Watch or similar tool can monitor your heart rate. Meanwhile, most smartphones now come complete with apps to track your quality of sleep.

With these programs, users can identify factors that are affecting their health with ease.

These examples are cases where collection of one’s own data is beneficial. What about when your data can be accessed by other people?

With Tunstall’s Integrated Care Platform, people living with long-term conditions can rest assured that their vital sign data is collected and communicated to their care team securely. Thanks to connected health solutions like this, data about a client’s wellbeing can be stored in a centralised location where it’s secure, and upon analysis can trigger alerts should measurements fall outside pre-set limits. Then, a client’s support team can get in touch or even take remote action to rectify some health complications or risks.

Large-scale data collection

The benefits of data collection also go beyond the individual.

When healthcare organisations or government are able to amass large banks of information based on thousands of patients, they can then perform large-scale analysis to contribute to medical advancement. Consider a cross-section of thousands of individual’s medical statistics. From this, analysts may be able to correlate demographic or environmental factors with progressing illnesses, or identify anomalies from the trend, which could have life-saving implications for many.

The ethical complications of data collection

Data mining holds enormous promise as a vehicle for progress in the healthcare sector. Despite that, we can’t deny it has its share of ethical complications.

Medical data is among the most personal and sensitive of information, so those handling it must be able to do so securely, transparently and reliably. It’s vital for any healthcare organisation to protect all data from compromise by cyber attacks, human error or oversight. Furthermore, in the spirit of the GDPR, organisations should allow clients to access their own data and control what is collected and how it’s used.

Responsible data use in healthcare is at the core of what we do at Tunstall. To learn more about our connected health solutions and systems, and how we gather and protect patient data, click through to our connected health page.