US and UK share health data via cloud

November 15, 2013 in Medical Technology

About half a century after epidemiology studies in Massachusetts and the United Kingdom helped build the world’s understanding of cardiovascular disease and health risks, public health and population data is being opened up by the U.S. and joining international datasets.

As part of the Obama Administration’s Big Data Research and Development Initiative, federal health agencies are contributing five-years worth of public datasets to a cloud-based research platform being used by life sciences researchers at universities and pharmaceutical companies to share population data along with other medical and biological data.

[See also: Pop health analytics top ACO priority]

The cloud, hosted by the U.K.-based BT and using software of the Washington-based MedRed, currently hosts deidentified population data from the National Health Services, covering England, Scotland and Wales, with data on demographics, income levels, disease and physician encounters, acute care, medication history, and certain outcomes.

Integrating that with U.S. data and making it broadly available to researchers offers “great potential to help speed the development of products and practices that will advance healthcare and improve the health and well-being of people around the world,” the companies said in a media release.

With regular updates from the Food the Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the database will host adverse event data and Medicare demographics and utilization data, along with other public datasets. (In October, CMS launched its new virtual research data center.)

It’s a step in the direction of a critical mass of digital research on a global scale, said William Kennedy Smith, MD, the CEO of MedRed. “Our goal is to take data that resides in disparate systems and make the necessary connections so that it can be transformed into knowledge and action,” Smith said in a media release. “We believe such transformation benefits a wide variety of stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum.”

Complementing the U.S.’s new contributions to open epidemiology research, the National Institutes of Health is trying to “capitalize more fully on the big data being generated by the research community,” making a multiyear, multimillion investment in large databases and analytics for genomics and molecular research.

The NIH-funded Cancer Genome Atlas is helping researchers map the genetic changes in 20 cancers, with one team recently finding similarities in breast and ovarian cancers, and health systems participating in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute-sponsored cardiovascular research network are creating the largest contemporary cohort of patients with atrial fibrillation, from the electronic health records of more than 34,000 individuals.

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