BMC Series blog by Emma Cookson
It’s impossible to ignore the proliferation of information technology in all aspects of everyday life with the healthcare environment being no exception. Informatics for Health 2017 brought together leaders in the field performing cutting edge research into how we can use information technology in all kinds of healthcare settings as well as in medical research. One of the overarching messages was that the use and re-use of healthcare data could revolutionise the understanding of human health and disease with the phrase ‘data saves lives’ prominent throughout the conference.
Gaining the public’s trust and developing the informatics workforce
Many of the sessions were focused on the work that is being carried out in the UK, specifically the North of England, which has become a hub for informatics research with projects such as Connected Health Cities headed up by John Ainsworth. In a panel session, he described the main aims of the project which centre on the use of information technology to improve health services for patients in Northern England. Another key aim of the project is to establish the public’s trust which will allow researchers to use their data. In his talk during one of the early panel sessions, Iain Buchan also highlighted the importance of obtaining trust from participants. Such trust is often won by demonstrating how the results of the research will be of benefit to the patient population, and as such tends to be easier to obtain from a smaller community of patients who will be able to see the direct benefit of the research to their community.
A number of sessions and talks also highlighted the importance of the workforce, made up of those working in both discovery science and the healthcare setting. Martin Bardsley spoke about the need to ensure that we have enough informatics experts and analysts who can handle and analyse healthcare data. Once the research is being put into practice it’s also imperative that the workforce on the front-line of healthcare is on-board with the implementation of the research.
The use of informatics in healthcare: from patients to research and back again
A recurring theme at the conference centered around a circular model that has been proposed in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association which summarises how informatics can and should be used in medicine. The model puts the patient at the start and the end of the circle; with data collected during their care being used in research leading to the generation of new knowledge which is then fed back into the system leading to changes in healthcare policy, thereby improving the care that the patient experiences. In the first of the plenary talks, Riccardo Bellazi of the University of Pavia, discussed one of the key considerations in this circle; the variety observed in biomedical big data and how this can be harnessed in translational and clinical research as well as in the care of patients. This large variety comes from the sheer quantity of data that is now being collected and methods are required to deal with data on this scale at every stage, including data storage, integration and analysis.