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'Only 10% of data available about a human is actually used': How cognitive computing can change healthcare

A summit held yesterday focused on new technological advancements in the field of healthcare.

Image: Shutterstock/sfam_photo

NEW DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES can help provide better outcomes for patients, strengthen their voice and are revolutionising healthcare.

That was the message for people at yesterday’s European Patient Innovation Summit, which was looking into how digital technologies are revolutionising healthcare.

The event – which was sponsored by pharmaceutical company Novartis and attended by 130 patient advocacy groups - focused on new technological advancements in the fields of big data, cloud technology, wearables and more and how they can positively impact on patients’ health and wellbeing.

One of the keynote speakers - Heather Fraser from the IBM business think tank – spoke to TheJournal.ie about the potential large scale benefits big data processing software can have for patients.

Fraser – whose job description is global lead for life sciences and healthcare in the IBM Institute for Business Value -  spoke about the advances being made in the field of cognitive computing for healthcare.

Cognitive computing involves machines mining large amounts of data and identifying trends and patterns through complex reasoning. In essence, its using computers to mimic the way the human brain works.

In terms of healthcare, IBM has pioneered a product known as Watson Health – named after company founder Thomas Watson.

“The thing I mentioned [in the speech] is that it’s really only 10% of the data that’s available about a human being that’s actually used,” Fraser told TheJournal.ie.

“That 10% is clinical data. There is another 30% which is your genomic data. And a further 60% we call exogenous factors.

What I mean by that is it could be what you’re getting from your Fitbit, it could be your behavioural data. It could be from social media, it could be your housing situation.

So what cognitive computing seeks to do is to process through all this data (which could amount to terabytes per person) to provide an individualised, accurate picture of a person’s health.

Following on from the computer’s output, a healthcare professional would then be able to interpret and act on the data.

“You have to have human input to it… the data is collected and input into a computer,” said Fraser.

The computer will digest it and will provide you with outputs which then need due diligence by the healthcare professional or the academic or whoever will be the expert for that data.

Fraser sees this big data processing as having widespread implications across the fields of healthcare, health science, pharmaceutical science and more.

Fraser said that different things like improving the accuracy of clinical trials, to ensuring that a patient’s health is properly monitored at all times could be achieved through this technology.

“At the end of the day, the aim is that it will allow you to provide much more individualised or personalised treatments and outcomes for the patient,” she said.

“So I think… that’s the aim.

To take it from providing the same medication for a whole group of individuals, down to personalising the treatment for you with your particular genome and where you’re living and all the environmental issues where you may be compared to someone else.

She said that while the technology may not be in widespread use at the moment across the world, it was “real” and growing.

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