Data sharing: The Revolution That Will Take Healthcare To The Future

Academic Publishing
(Image Credit : KamiPhuc, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

A fundamental and constitutive part of progress in the medical field today is data sharing. Every advance in the health care system today is critically dependent on sharing of data among the researchers. It is intrinsic to development and the open access approach to research can pave way for widespread data sharing in the healthcare industry.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology concurs that ‘precision medicine’ almost exclusively relies on the collection of organized data from a chronological submission by researchers. According to them, ‘Large data sets help physicians understand hoe targeted treatments have worked for genetically similar patients in the past, and help us uncover treatments we may not have thought of.’

The healthcare sector learns from the records of prior care and treatments and the whole system can improve and build upon its delivery with access to this data. The free exchange of medical information from various data sources can help inform and improve treatment plans. Data sharing can improve outcomes and transform the healthcare industry where increasing influence from telemedicine and healthcare technology is moving the provision of care from hospitals to homes and clinics.

A luminous example of data sharing working wonders in the healthcare industry is the Oncology Precision Network (OPeN) initiative at the Intermountain Healthcare (USA) towards ending cancer. It is successfully fueling a collaboration of doctors from 11 states, 79 hospitals, and almost 800 clinics involving a dataset of almost 50,000 cases that are newly added every year. It is redefining its care and treatment provisions through this collection and sharing of genetic data and this network is immensely aiding healthcare providers to make new diagnoses, treatment plans, and associations.

Open access to information is crucial for innovation to take place. The advantages of data sharing can greatly help the whole gamut health care system in its efficiency, future progress, and in making informed decisions. With the open sharing of data and access to vast data sets, medical professionals can—

  • accurately review information about treatments and diagnostics,
  • can cross reference among similar medical conditions,
  • draw conclusions based on numerous previous findings,
  • sift through similar genetic data, and
  • test and evaluate the results of various treatment plans.

The advantages of data sharing and integration in the medical field are acknowledged through the 21st Century Cure Act that prohibits blocking of information and has provisions for eliminating barriers towards data sharing. Another commendable step in the direction is the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors policy commencing in July 2018 whereby researchers are required to include a statement on data sharing in their manuscripts submitted to ICMJE journals.

The biggest challenge in the present health IT system is that it’s poorly equipped to manage large volumes of population health data. Infrastructure is a glaring hurdle in the data sharing trend. Moreover, costs related to exchange of information, standardization processes for collection and storage of medical data where codes among the institutions itself vary widely for diagnoses, treatments, lab tests, and results, etc., and systems interoperability are all slowing down the adoption of open access to data sets in the healthcare industry.

Again, healthcare operators view each other as competitors rather than collaborators and treat datasets owned by them as trade secrets with a view to monetize them. Regulations are welcome at this juncture to make providers share data as opposed to hoarding them for financial purposes. As Bryce Olson says, ‘Data sharing isn’t the answer to everything, but data hoarding is the answer to nothing.’

Through data collection and analysis the healthcare system can focus on a form of collaboration where everyone can access the same data and also share significant insights derived from data sharing to improve healthcare considerably.

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