Healthcare: What can we do with data?

Andrew Harding
By , - Information SecurityHealthcare

From the ever-growing worldwide population to ageing societies, our healthcare resources are under more demand than ever before.

It’s clear that healthcare needs to evolve, and one key part of this evolution is data.

Beyond the big data analysis being used to investigate cures for diseases like cancer, real-time data monitoring also offers significant advantages in day-to-day patient care.

By using new sensor and data analysis technology, healthcare providers can both save money and crucially improve patient quality of life. But how we use and protect this data is also vital for realising its full potential.

Sensors – big data driving big benefits

The growth of intelligent, connected devices at lower and lower costs is giving us access to important data in real time.

This is something we’re already seeing amongst consumers; for example, personal heartrate and activity monitors for tracking personal fitness have become very popular in the last few years.

Remote monitoring is advancing further in the medical sphere; small, easily wearable and wireless monitors can collect blood pressure data for analysis and if necessary send an action message to the wearer or their doctor.

Further devices such as wearable blood glucose sensors are already in the advanced stages of development. The remote collection and monitoring of data enables timely action by doctors and patients, while providing added piece of mind for people living with various conditions.

A caring environment

Sensors in the patient’s environment can also provide vital data about people’s safety. Homes can be fitted with ambient sensors monitoring the elderly and frail for abnormal movement patterns associated with a fall or other injury.

This means that not only will carers be able to respond faster and to more incidents, but the healthcare community will also learn more about the environmental factors affecting falls and other incidents.

Fujitsu is helping with the KIDUKU Research Project in Ireland, an initiative to provide health monitoring services and assisted independent living for senior citizens and patients through smart houses.

Ultimately these advances will help to support people living independently for longer, improving people’s quality of life and generating cost savings.

Dealing with the health data explosion

The possibilities offered by massive sets of health data are almost limitless, but how we structure and analyse the data is vital to unlocking this potential.

One challenge is that different sensor types sample at different rates. Aggregating this data is therefore a challenge, as is establishing standards for the format of data stored. The data is only useful if it can be accessed, interpreted correctly and acted upon with confidence.

At Fujitsu we are using Hadoop distributed computing technology to manage large, diverse health data sets, but the development of data standards across healthcare will help everyone make sense of data faster.

Security – keeping our data safe and sound

A further consideration is the ever-present threat of cybercrime to the security of health data.

The advances in healthcare described here rely on the collection and analysis of huge amounts of personal data. The sheer volume of data presents a tempting target for hackers, as data could be intercepted as it is streamed from a sensor over a wireless network, in cloud databases or even from people’s personal healthcare records.

Measures to protect medical data may include the adoption of personal banking-style authentication controls, the removal of personally identifiable data from publically available databases and the segmentation of data.

Biometric security may also play a key part; Fujitsu’s PalmSecure technology uses unique palm vein patterns to provide highly secure authentication for access to medicines and sensitive medical data.

For patients to consent to their data being used, they must have confidence that it is secure, so healthcare and technology providers must put robust protection in place and ensure patients are aware of them.

This is just the start

We are only at the beginning of realising the full potential of data in healthcare. We are already seeing the advantages of applying advances from the internet of things and analytics in healthcare.

However, it’s up to government, industry, healthcare providers and patient groups to collaborate and ensure that we use data in the right way and take full advantage of it.

Data is a great advance of the modern age, and it is a vital tool in overcoming the healthcare challenges we face.

Andrew Harding
Andrew Harding

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