Big Data, Open Data and eHealth in an ecosystem
Big Data is the term given to data collections that are so big, complex and unstructured that they are no longer manageable using the usual tools such as conventional databases. To be able to manage such data collections, more and different knowledge will be needed in the future. Knowledge about standards, filters, meta-data, techniques for storing, finding, analysing, visualising and securing data, and sector-specific editing of data. Increasingly, an extreme amount of computing power will be needed, such as that provided by a supercomputer. Furthermore, the massive storage combined with the computing of the large data amounts will consume huge amounts of energy, unless organised more efficiently so that there is a return on the energy costs.
Aiming to make the most of the fast-growing volume of digital data, the Obama Administration recently announced a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative,” pledging to “extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data,” to help address the US most pressing challenges. To launch the initiative, six federal departments and agencies announced more than $200 million in new commitments that, together, promise to improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data.
This clearly shows the importance of big data and also that it must be incorporated in the European Digital Agenda. But Big Data is not on its own. It has a strong relation with Open Data and eHealth.
Big data is often associated with all the data on the internet but one of the major data producers is the medical world with e.g. a kaleidoscope of imaging from X-rays, MRI's and other scanners, genetics, pathology, sensors and research data. Over 30% of all data stored on earth is medical data and it is growing rapidly.
However, the medical sector has a problem with this data. Often data is stored in a vendor specific manner so that it can’t be shared or used in a smart way: between disciplines, intramurally or with patients. Neither can it be used for research or educational purposes because it is locked-in or a digital light box. To not be able to access or process the data results in a huge loss of knowledge and unused innovative potential. It is a cost driver instead of a value generator. What we need to do is make this medical data also Open Data and be able to use it for eHealth.
Note that Open Data in this situation means only access for medical professionals and patients, protected by our laws, rules and regulations. Big data in medicine has an enormous potential but harnessing that potential is still in its infancy. It needs a new area of expertise that requires new skills (knowledge) and applications (tools).
The city of Almere, part of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area has started to unlock this potential through the ambitious programme Almere DataCapital and within this programme the Dutch Health Hub. The term DataCapital refers to an ecosystem of companies, services, knowledge and facilities all dedicated to the capture, storage, search, sharing, analysis and visualisation of big data. Based on the 2011 McKinsey study "big data the next frontier for innovation", the city expects to generate new economic activity and with it, new jobs and ultimately become a European big data hub. But that is only one side of the same coin.
The Dutch Health Hub can be instrumental for Open Data and eHealth. So I would like to invite the EU to support our initiative. The way we must deal with medical data in the future will cause a landslide in healthcare and is a paradigm shift. But we must do it if we want to keep healthcare affordable for our children in the future and make use of all the information we have to realise healthy aging.