wish_logoCell phones, security cameras, social networking websites and loyalty cards could become as important as the stethoscope and the blood pressure monitor for monitoring health, experts have said at the inaugural World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH).

The billions of digital traces generated by the electronic devices on which we rely, collectively known as Big Data, provide a far more accurate and complete picture of our mental and cultural life than has ever been available before and could be used to improve health, cut costs and even halt epidemics.

In a new report to published at WISH, leading experts calls for an international charter on data sharing that would allow organizations to exchange information about our health, behavior and lifestyles. The report also examines how bringing data together can have a huge global impact on the spread of disease and change our behavior in order to protect and improve people’s health.

Professor Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Director at the Human Dynamics Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chair of the Big Data and Healthcare Forum, said:

The ’digital breadcrumbs’ we leave behind are already allowing us to improve health, cut costs and even halt epidemics.  We need to harness this huge new source of valuable information about our lifestyles and behaviors in order to improve health care and help reduce costs, without compromising on quality or privacy.’

Muhammed Al Yemeni , deputy minister of health, Saudi Arabia, said IT systems had been developed to monitor the transfer of patients between hospitals and there were plans to measure nurses’ workload. Improved access to data had enabled Saudi Arabia to correct false information published elsewhere.

We found a lot of the information about us was  incorrect. It was based on extrapolations from other countries. Now we can correct it.’

The novelty of the field was highlighted by Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of NHS England, who said five years ago he would not have attended a session on big data. But rapid developments in technology combined with growing economic pressures on all health systems – the UK NHS faces a £30 billion funding shortfall over the next five years – could not be ignored. He cited the example of cardiac surgeons publishing their mortality data, pioneered in the UK. Outbreaks of Norovirus, which regularly close hospital wards during the winter in the UK can be identified at source by tracking social media.


Professor Michelle Holmes, professor of public health at Harvard University, said the greatest impact of big data was likely to be felt in the developing world which had previously had little data on which to draw. Monitoring the mobile use of 500,000 people in west and east Africa would make it possible to measure directly whether people cycled to work or ate in fast food restaurants rather than relying on questionnaires.

WISH & Big Data

Big Data and Healthcare is one of eight areas discussed at WISH that took place in Doha, Qatar on 10 &11 December, where world leading experts join an influential cast of heads of state, government ministers, academics, clinicians, policy makers and business leaders to discuss innovative solutions to some of the most pressing global health challenges.  As well as Big Data and Healthcare, there were be reports on Accountable Care, Antimicrobial Resistance, End of Life Care, Mental Health, Obesity, Patient Engagement and Road Traffic Injuries.