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Project director hails benefits of new health data research hub

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The director behind a project to build a new health data research hub has spoken to Health Tech World about its potential to innovate the acute care sector.  

Global hybrid IT services provider Ensono has been selected by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) to help it build the new hub.

Working alongside Microsoft, HDR UK, the University of Birmingham and UHB, Ensono has developed the secure cloud-based infrastructure needed for the project.

The hub allows clinical teams across UHB’s sites to access and learn from near real-time, acute hospital data to answer urgent clinical questions. This will help identify critical triggers and bottlenecks where healthcare could be improved and adjusted, potentially supporting earlier diagnosis, new treatments and monitoring systems.

Professor Elizabeth Sapey, a consultant in acute and respiratory medicine at UHB and PIONEER Hub director, said: “10 million people per year seek acute care help, and the costs are huge: £17bn per year. Despite this huge burden and cost, it remains one of those sectors that has seen little innovation.

“We realised to innovate the sector, to really get benefits for patients, we needed to join up data. Joining up data across the NHS is quite a controversial topic, which has had various successes and more prominent failures over the years, so we needed a different way of doing it.

“We initially started by having workshops with over 400 members of the public about what they wanted from health data being joined together, and what were their concerns about it. We then formed a framework with our public and patient members about what that should look like; it was data proximity to the NHS. So, data being used to answer a question but not being excessive.

“PIONEER is a research database and analytics environment that enables data to be brought together, be identified and then shared for research and innovation purposes to improve patient care. And we built it very much along the lines of what our patients wanted from us.”

Sapey also spoke about the specific benefits the hub could provide for patients.

“I looked after a patient once who came to me having fallen over and fractured their hip and also got pneumonia. We then worked out that they had myeloma, a relatively rare blood cancer.

“When we looked back over the records, the first classical symptom for myeloma was seen eight years prior. But because they presented to different people with different bits, a bit of anaemia, kidney is not working too well and a couple of chest infections, no one was able to bring that picture together to make the diagnosis.

“So, we’re hoping that we can build a series of AI prompts or algorithms with patients, conditions, practitioners, that will enable those sorts of diagnoses to be made in much shorter time.”

She added: “It’s very easy to tell a story of the concerns and fears about sharing data. But I think if you do it responsibly, and you always keep in mind what you would want if it was your data, you can make responsible decisions with patient oversight, which means that we can improve healthcare.”

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