Can Open Data Drive Innovative Healthcare?


Innovative Healthcare (image via Shutterstock)

By: Will Greene

As healthcare systems worldwide become increasingly digitized, medical scientists and health researchers have more data than ever. Yet much valuable health information remains locked in proprietary or hidden databases. A growing number of open data initiatives aim to change this, but it won’t be easy.

Privacy concerns are one of the thorniest obstacles. Even as the open data movement gains strength, many questions remain about how to protect information about individuals. Without proper controls, such information could enable discrimination, cause embarrassment, or be used for other undesired or abusive purposes.

Commercial realities present another major obstacle. Private healthcare companies, such as those that process insurance claims or implement hospital information systems, often prefer to sell data rather than share it. If they can’t monetize health data, some companies have little incentive to collect it at all.

Health researchers conducting clinical trials or policy evaluations might also hesitate before sharing data. While doing so can invite collaboration and faster validation of results, it can also empower competitors to make their own discoveries or publish results first. With patents, research grants, professorships, and other rewards at stake, competitive pressures can often discourage data sharing.

The hesitancy to share data can also persist after research is completed. If a study didn’t lead to meaningful findings, some researchers may see no value in publishing their work, even though such “negative results” can be useful to others. Sometimes, health researchers deliberately bury or obscure results — and the data behind them — when they don’t support desired treatments or policies. In both private and public health research, conflicts of interest are regrettably common.

In some countries, there’s simply not much data to share anyway. As Techonomy reported in July, such data gaps are particularly —> Read More