Overview - Health data

 What is health data?

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Health data refers to any kind of data that describes a person‘s health, healthcare or anything that affects their health or diseases that they have. This includes information created by health and care professionals but also by patients, when they monitor their illnesses using computer or mobile phone applications, or devices that they wear such as smart watches.

Things people do to prevent illness or detect illnesses early, such as screening tests and the diet they eat, are also potentially relevant health data. It can also include other information that affects peoples health, such as climate and pollution monitoring information.

All of this data together helps us to understand a person's health, their health risks and how their health is being cared for.

In the last 5 years, more scientific data has been generated than in the entire history of mankind

What is big data?

The term “Big Data“ is increasingly used to describe very large collections of data, called repositories. In healthcare the term Big Data is most often used to mean large healthcare databases (such as electronic health record systems) or networks of interconnected healthcare databases (called ‘linked’ databases) coming from multiple healthcare organisations. We need to study the data on large patient numbers in order to improve healthcare and research.

Why use health data?

Healthcare systems are challenged by growing and ageing populations who are living with more chronic disease. There is a need for more effective and smarter medicine to deliver better care to patients. New opportunities are arising for treatment through genetics. Better decision making is possible using algorithms and artificial intelligence. All this needs to be delivered within the same healthcare budgets. Learning more from health data can contribute to discoveries that will show us how to make these improvements.

Data protection

“Patients are really willing to donate data but there is always the aspect of trust”

A person’s health data must be kept safe and secure. Surveys show that while people are generally comfortable with anonymised health data being used for improving healthcare services, research and where there is a public benefit, they also value being able to make decisions about the use of the data collected from them. People want to have the power to decide who gets to use the data, and for what purposes.