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Big data: improving data accessibility, integration and usability

150 attendees at a Berlin conference on the challenges and benefits of big data analytics in healthcare and research

14 December 2016. “X-rays, CT and MRI scans, and blood tests, generate huge volumes of heterogeneous data. Plus there are doctors’ reports and treatment histories in electric health records in hospital information systems (HIS). This data can be leveraged for research to improve patient care. But before this can take place, we need to improve and ensure data accessibility, integration and usability – enabling big-data analytics to be evidence-based,” emphasised Sebastian C. Semler (TMF) at a conference on big data in Berlin on 13 December 2016. The event was jointly hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs (BMWI)’s Smart Data initiative, the Bundesverband Gesundheits-IT (bvitg; an association of German healthcare IT providers), and TMF.

150 experts from a wide variety of fields discussed scenarios where big data analytics can be applied to medical care and research. Specifically, they explored potential uses of data, plus the requirements and framework that has to be in place to enable comprehensive analyses. Furthermore, Dr Amke Caliebe of University Medical Centre, Schleswig-Holstein, pointed out that, when it comes to data, quality is more important than quantity: “Good data is better than big data.”

Challenges primarily revolve around organisation and structure

Data integration and quality are problems currently being addressed – in particular, by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)’s Medical Informatics funding scheme. Dr Matthias Kölbel (BMBF) discussed the initiative, and emphasised that technology is simply a means to an end. He suggested that the primary challenges revolve around organisation and structure. Nino Mangiapane from the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) seconded this view. Drawing on his experiences in telemedicine, he noted that enthusiasm for technical solutions had led to many projects failing to make the leap to day-to-day care. With this in mind, he urged the development of clearly defined goals, and the involvement of all partners in research and medical care.

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