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November 6, 2016

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Healthy dose of Big Data set to benefit patients

CHAIRMAN of the Board of Directors, Novartis AG

Finding new ways to more efficiently provide high-quality healthcare is critical for society. Population growth and longer lifespans in China and globally are increasing healthcare needs while new technologies — although helping people live longer and healthier lives — are boosting costs. The use of rich information sources can help health systems in China and elsewhere to manage these costs. The power of this approach comes from linking healthcare interventions such as physician visits, taking medicine, or surgeries, to health outcomes such as mortality rates, patient quality of life, or the length of hospital stays.

Achieving this link is complex, relying on enormous amounts of data, so-called Big Data. These are data sets so large and complex that traditional processing applications are inadequate. In healthcare, such data sets can be powerful, but also challenging to collect, link, and analyze. Big Data sets created from healthcare information collected in clinical practice provide real-world evidence of the effectiveness of health interventions. Healthcare professionals in Europe, the Unites States, and other parts of the world are increasingly using such data to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

The promise of Big Data in China

China and, in particular, Shanghai has the opportunity to learn from these examples, and strengthen the management of its healthcare system, to the benefit of patients and society.

The Chinese central government, recognizing the importance of government guidance in the adoption of Big Data, has already put forth a number of policies at the national level to promote the use of information technologies across different sectors. China’s 13th Five Year Plan, for example, encourages data sharing and smart healthcare to make better use of Internet-based health information platforms and electronic health records.

As a designated “demonstration city” for the application of Big Data, Shanghai is well positioned to develop a local healthcare Big Data plan tailored to address the city’s most pressing healthcare needs and challenges. Its government has already made significant steps in collecting health-related data, including an extensive database on medicine prescriptions and a platform for generating and sharing electronic health records. By moving forward, the city would not only further support its progress in the use of Big Data but also remain a pioneer in China’s efforts in this area.

A focus on health outcomes

Shanghai’s next steps in this field could include:

Creating a framework that clearly regulates and promotes the collection, sharing, and analysis of information across the healthcare value chain, building on China’s central government plans. The availability and linkage of vast amounts of clinical information from different sources can support physicians in their diagnosis and prescription decisions as well as in treatment monitoring. Shanghai could offer major participants in the system, such as academia, hospitals, and physicians incentives to generate and share relevant data. For example, the city could tie adoption of its electronic health record platform to stakeholders’ performance review systems.

Educating the public about the benefits of sharing data and the value of using real world evidence for decision-making. Without such efforts, data collection initiatives may fail to gather public support. One way to build support would be to create a regulatory framework addressing the public’s concerns, such as on data privacy and security.

Conducting studies to assess treatment outcomes by linking prescription data with patient data from electronic health records and data from clinical trials. For instance, linking prescription data with information from electronic health records would enable policy makers to make real-world, fact-based decisions on what prescribing patterns lead to the best health outcomes for patients in Shanghai.

Building on Shanghai’s progress

Shanghai will benefit from more research on innovative treatments, resource utilization, and health outcomes for diseases that are most relevant to Chinese people. They could contribute to Shanghai’s ongoing project with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to define evidence-based indicators comparing the cost efficiency of available drugs. It would further attract and nurture the diversity of players in Shanghai’s healthcare ecosystem.

The integration of different types of data with the help of digital technologies could lead to better understanding disease patterns, improved disease treatment, and development of precision medicine. Novartis stands ready to support Shanghai in its efforts to ensure that the city and its people capture the rewards of this new era.


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