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October 28, 2018

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Tapping into the potential of big data in health care for best use

SHANGHAI’S economic and societal performance over the past 30 years has been breathtaking.

The city has not only become China’s key growth motor and one of the world’s foremost industrial hubs. Shanghai, which is now also strengthening its footprint as major importer, has also developed into one of the world’s leading trade and finance centers in record time.

Much of this success is due to the Shanghai government’s strong focus on business and technological excellence, which has allowed the city to beat even the wildest economic expectations.

As the Shanghai government is now focusing increasingly on digital technology and science, the city is on its way to becoming one of the most important innovation hubs in the realm of digital and engineering technologies.

In terms of data-based technologies and user platforms such as WeChat and Alibaba, China is already envied today across the world for the efficiency and ubiquity of its digital activities.

In health care, China and Shanghai have also made substantial progress.

Over the past few years, China has expanded its Universal Health Coverage and has updated its National Reimbursement Drug List to provide better access to medicines to its citizens.

At the same time, the Chinese and Shanghai governments have established policies to broaden their research and development capacity.

As part of these important changes, Novartis was able to invest US$1 billion to build a state-of-the-art campus in Shanghai.

We employ about 700 scientists in Shanghai, who are working on multiple drug platforms for innovative drug discovery dedicated to bringing transformative medicine to patients.

We are also entertaining a strong network of collaboration with major Chinese universities, as we are convinced that academic-industrial partnerships are essential to drive innovation.

One major venture is our partnership with Fudan University, where we are working together in the area of cancer and epigenetics.

Another key collaboration with Fudan University centers on digital health and the potential of big data.

In collaboration with Fudan University, we have been able to show that the application of state-of-the-art data collection and data analytics can help decision makers to better assess the health care landscape and assist them to align resources to patient needs.

As part of the collaboration, we have found, for example, that medical resources today are unevenly distributed among different districts in the city. We have also found a shortage of specialty care capacity in certain areas.

To remedy these challenges, the Shanghai government could, for example, consider medical resource allocation at a more granular level and look into the possibility of creating not-for-profit private hospitals.

These are only some of the findings that can come as a result of big data analysis. They are also in line with the “Healthy Shanghai 2030” program amid which the city aims to further improve local health care quality by leveraging fast-growing internet technologies.

In our view, Shanghai would benefit greatly if Fudan University’s platform were broadened to include other universities and to allow researchers to use this data to mine for insights. This could advance the city’s health care system even more.

There are many other advantages to be gained from accelerating the use of digital technologies in health care.

Big data analysis, for example, allows us to respond more quickly to emerging health care and infrastructure challenges and is crucial to making long-term decisions.

We believe that the sheer volume of data and the opportunities that come with new analytical methods based on artificial intelligence (AI) could catapult Shanghai’s health care system to a new level.

Dartmouth Health Atlas in the US was an early adopter of big data analysis and started mining Medicare data in 1973 to analyze differences in medical practice and health outcomes across the United States.

As part of these efforts, researchers were able to analyze a wide range of health care policy situations, ranging from optimizing the use of certain surgical procedures to understanding the cultural determinants of health care disparities.

Another example is the work of Professor Wang Yaogang and his team at Tianjin Medical University, who have proposed a big data system to help drive utilization of a hierarchical health care system nationwide.

Shanghai is set to greatly benefit from a big data approach as this will allow the city to put its resources to best use.

Especially in view of demographic change and the ensuing medical and societal challenges, we believe it is paramount that patient needs are scrutinized through the analysis of complex health care data sets.

Life expectancy in Shanghai today is already above 83 years, topping countries such as Japan.

According to the latest data provided by the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality, the number of Shanghai residents who are 60 years or older reached 4.58 million, which represents 31.6 percent of the city’s population. In all of China, the figure stands at 16.7 percent.

Of course, while big data technologies cannot solve all the health care challenges Shanghai currently faces, this emerging health care field provides a gold mine for further exploration.

We are convinced that, by continuing to utilize big data technologies and to sharpen its focus on emerging AI technology, the Shanghai government can further enhance its health care system and provide the most efficient care for its citizens.


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