Improving health and achieving commercial success via data analytics

Precision Medicine is the growing body of international research that is identifying and enabling the capture of data that is vital for the practice of precision medicine. This includes genetic data, device data, social and diet data. With its focus on keeping people healthy and out of hospital for as long as possible, precision medicine makes good economic sense.

As governments around the world grapple with the rising cost of healthcare driven by an ageing population, they are realising the importance of precision medicine. U.S. President Barack Obama has launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, while in Britain they have begun the 100,000 Genomes Project.

Precision Driven Health is a public-private research partnership committed to putting New Zealand and the forefront of this global movement.

Data from an increased number of sources has the potential to transform the way we deliver healthcare. Through better collection, analysis and utilisation of the data that we are already capturing for each individual, we will be able to make better decisions and deliver more personalised healthcare. Personalised care, or precision health, is a win for everyone – individuals receive the advice and treatment that is most likely to work for them, and less health resources are spent on ineffective care.

There are hundreds of new devices coming onto the market each week that collect data with the potential to improve our health. These devices are being sold to patients and clinicians with the aim of helping them make better decisions about health, but often it is difficult to fully utilise and understand the data they provide.

Precision Driven Health, one of the largest data science research initiatives to be undertaken in New Zealand, is aimed at providing world-leading research into the emerging area of precision medicine and personalised care. The research partnership aims to both improve healthcare for New Zealanders and enable commercial success for some leading New Zealand companies.

Data scientists often face what they perceive to be a dichotomy between either contributing to social good, or being commercially successful. I would argue that good data science needs to incorporate both in order to be sustainable. Data analytics can inform ways to deliver better healthcare, by identifying patterns in what risks people face, and what treatments are effective.

However, clinicians and consumers, facing an increasing volume of data from all directions, need tools that enable them to translate those findings into practice. This often comes in the form of technology products. Planners, funders, and consumers will only purchase these products if they deliver health benefits, and these health benefits will only be achieved if the product is commercially sustainable.

In order to deliver tailored healthcare to the greatest portion of the population possible, all of Precision Driven Health’s research needs to have a pathway to sustainable use, including commercialisation where appropriate. This is why our public-private partnership is made up of extremely important relationships between data scientists, healthcare providers and commercial parties.

The partnership model of Precision Driven Health enables three distinct groups to achieve their own goals.

  • Academics taking part in breakthrough data science, who want to see their work being used in practice, get to work with people from the healthcare sector – the people who will actually be implementing it.
  • Healthcare professionals directly influence product design, enabling them to make better decisions and therefore achieve their primary objective of improving health outcomes for patients.
  • Commercial companies get to build the latest data science discoveries into their products, in a way that has been validated by their customers in the health industry.

Healthcare is a prime example of a field that is full of data that is not being used to its potential. Whether it is new genomic tests, or a wearable fitness advice, data needs to be collected, stored and interpreted in order to receive the potential health benefits. This creates all sorts of opportunities for data scientists, healthcare providers and commercial companies to join forces and work towards making personalised care a reality. It is essential to ensure that the findings from data science find their way into the hands of those who will benefit.

We ask a lot of our medical professionals, and Precision Driven Health aims to provide them with tools to make decisions more efficiently. For example, a GP sees a patient for fifteen minutes and may not have a complete medical history of the patient, however they are expected to make an accurate decision around treatment based on what they know and what they see in their patient, plus what they know about their ever-expanding field of expertise.

Decision support tools can give clinicians some context around what the data suggests, therefore allowing them to make better and more personalised decisions. Data driven health aims to help clinicians quickly understand the patient, the conditions, and interpret the information for that individual patient using the data they are presented with.

If clinicians are expected to make better use of data, they must be able to trust the companies who are providing the tools of their trade, and the science behind any recommendations that come from those tools. It is essential that the companies who make and sell these data driven health products are commercially sustainable, and that the analysis they are based on is scientifically validated. As health becomes more of a data science, those who deliver health benefits will gain the credibility that leads to a virtuous cycle of sustainable commercial success.