What is health data?

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.

We need to co-operate much more in-between
different parts of the health care system but also
between the health care system and patients
— Hanna Svensson

Sources of health data

There are increasing volumes of health data being accumulated, not just in hospitals and by GPs.

For example:

  • Many healthcare organisations no longer use paper: health records are collected electronically, making that data easier to analyse.

  • There are national healthcare databases holding items like prescriptions, laboratory tests, and details about important diseases like cancers.

  • Patients are collecting more data themselves, using apps on their phones and wearable devices for fitness monitoring and to track body measurements for conditions which they have, such as diabetes.

  • Social media data can be useful if it can be analysed anonymously in aggregate form, for example to discover how many people are discussing certain side effects of a new treatment (without seeing their actual postings).

  • All this data can help study large populations of patients, discover new knowledge, give insights into the health needs of patients, and improve treatment outcomes.

Personal sensor data is expected to grow from 10% of all stored information to 90% within the next decade.