How to unleash the enormous power of global healthcare data

global healthcare data

(Unsplash, 2018)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Vanessa Candeias, Head of Global Health and Healthcare System Initiative, World Economic Forum, Emmanuel Akpakwu, Project Lead, Value in Healthcare, World Economic Forum Geneva & Stefan Larsson, Senior Partner and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group


Two thousand three hundred and fourteen exabytes.

This is approximately how much space it would take to store the total volume of global healthcare data by 2020, according to a report by the EMC and IDC. To put this in context, it would take approximately five exabytes to store all the words ever spoken by humankind. If all the data stored in 2,314 exabytes were to be stored on tablet computers and stacked, it would reach 82,000 miles high or circle the earth 3.2 times and would equal all the written works of humankind, in every known language, 46,280 times over.

Let that sink in, while I let you in on two non-secrets:

Non-secret #1:

The potential of this amount of data to meaningfully improve healthcare delivery across the value chain is transformative. It’s no secret that despite the enormous global healthcare spend (around $8 trillion, according to the OECD), the quality of care outcomes remains significantly varied, with some countries spending more yet achieving less in terms of care quality. To worsen matters, this expenditure is expected to continue rising significantly to cater to an ever-ageing population experiencing higher rates of chronic disease. At some point, the cost of care delivery becomes unsustainable and care quality suffers.

Technologies already exist to capture and harness data, enabling significant improvement in care outcomes while reducing cost and waste. However, these technologies currently operate in silos, using different frameworks and standards and storing information in ways that other systems cannot understand. For example, data captured in the electronic health records system of hospital ‘A’ is often uninterpretable by the electronic health record system of hospital ‘B’. This ultimately prevents health ecosystems from leveraging the vital power of data to help prevent sickness, better treat patients who are sick, and to ensure a high quality of life post-treatment.

The answer to this challenge is simple: standardisation.

In the early days of the internet, standardisation provided a governance framework and set of “rules” (for example, TCP/IP) that anyone creating content anywhere on the globe needed to adhere to. Standards enabled the utility, scalability and global growth of the internet. The same can be said for GSM, the global set of standards that enables your iPhone to communicate seamlessly with your friend’s Samsung.

The rate of uptake for internet and mobile telephony post-standardisation
Image: WEF/BCG Analysis

If healthcare is to truly leverage the power of data, it is vital that standards are developed to break down silos, thus improving the accessibility, utility and scalability of healthcare data. Doing so will have a profoundly positive impact on medical research, drug pricing, clinical decision making, patient empowerment and, ultimately, improvement in care outcomes. We see excellent examples of this in the Netherlands and Sweden, where great efforts are being made to ensure the standardisation of data and outcomes metrics, with very positive results.

Non-secret #2:

Technological innovation often outpaces the ability of policymakers and industry to regulate and harness these innovations. The absence of robust and enforceable guidance from regulators, as well as the lack of any unifying effort on the part of industry, is arguably what got us into today’s fragmented healthcare data landscape. Whether for competitive reasons or otherwise, the global healthcare system has not had a single, unifying, public-private collaboration to drive convergence in health data and informatics standards. Until recently, that is.

The importance of a multi-stakeholder, public-private approach in the development of a healthcare data standards framework cannot be overstated.

Five key levers should drive such efforts:

1. The creation of a Digital Health Bill of Rights to guide standardisation and ensure privacy concerns are addressed

2. Landscaping existing health informatics standardization initiatives

3. The coordination and endorsement of global stakeholders

4. The capability to demonstrate the value of informatics standardisation through use cases

5. The ability to implement solutions and recommend policy

The five key levers laying out a roadmap to standardising global healthcare data

The five key levers laying out a roadmap to standardising global healthcare data
Image: WEF/BCG Analysis

The World Economic Forum, in partnership with many leading organisations and experts drawn from across the healthcare and technology spectrum, is developing a global roadmap for health informatics standardisation, to be launched in Davos 2019. The roadmap will lay a guiding foundation for how global convergence on a set of health informatics standards can be achieved by focusing on the five key levers described above.

Every single piece of information across all known mediums in the world today can be stored on about 1500 exabytes of space. In less than two years’ time, we will have more healthcare data than we have the capability of storing today. Our ability to harness its power to shed light on new ways to tackle existing problems – such as rare diseases, chronic diseases, mental health, cancer, and many more – is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. Better still, we don’t have to circle the earth 3.2 times to achieve it.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

European Commission: the LED lights of your Audi A6 shall save our planet

A new approach to scaling-up renewable power in emerging markets

Ensure that widows are ‘not left out or left behind’, UN chief urges on International Day

COVID-19 wave III and the lessons learned

Threats from mammoth banks and Brussels fuel May’s poll rates

EU and Amazon cut deal to end antitrust investigation over e-books deals

MEPs urge EU countries to be transparent about their COVID-19 vaccine supplies

Here’s how private investors can turn plastic into gold

Still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in all EU countries

Africa is set to get its first vertical forest

‘Millions facing starvation’ – Global political and business leaders on the economic impact of COVID-19

How the gender commuting gap could be harming women’s careers

Will 2020 be the year blockchain overcomes its hype?

Progress in medical research: leading or lagging behind?

Bacteria vs. humans: how to fight in this world war?

The future of energy is being shaped in Asia

What we know and what we don’t know about universal basic income

The first new university in the UK for 40 years is taking a very different approach to education

OECD household income up 0.7% in first quarter of 2018, outpacing GDP growth

First seat projections for the next European Parliament

The energy industry is changing. Are governments switched on?

What is the IMF telling Eurozone about fiscal and banking unification?

Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs


Re-thinking citizenship education: bringing young people back to the ballot box

Commission issues guidance on the participation of third country bidders in the EU procurement market

Car rentals: EU action leads to clearer and more transparent pricing

What’s going on in Chernobyl today?

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

Why are the Balkans’ political leaders meeting in Geneva this week?

Support for EU remains at historically high level despite sceptics

US pardons for accused war criminals, contrary to international law: UN rights office

European Business Summit 2015: In search of a vision for the future

Brexit casts a shadow over the LSE – Deutsche Börse merger: a tracer of how or if brexit is to be implemented

Migrants and refugees face higher risk of developing ill-health, says UN report on displaced people in Europe

Autumn 2019 Standard Eurobarometer: immigration and climate change remain main concerns at EU level

Stop the waste: UN food agencies call for action to reduce global hunger

The term AI overpromises. Let’s make machine learning work better for humans instead

How blended finance helped to keep energy supplies flowing during COVID-19

What will a post-pandemic economy look like? Here’s what chief economists expect

Innovation is the key to the pay-TV industry’s long-term growth

Mergers: Commission approves GlaxoSmithKline’s acquisition of Pfizer’s Consumer Health Business, subject to conditions

Coronavirus: Commission launches call for innovative response and recovery partnerships between EU regions

Parliament names radio studio after journalists murdered in December attack

4 things to know about the state of conflict today

World-famous cultural institutions closed due to coronavirus are welcoming virtual visitors

As Houthi forces withdraw from key Yemeni ports, UN monitoring chief welcomes ‘first practical step on the ground’

Get out, stay out: how financial resilience helps end poverty

The ‘ASEAN way’: what it is, how it must change for the future

30 years of tissue engineering, what has been achieved?

Businesses are lacking moral leadership, according to employees

Mental health and suicide prevention

‘Perseverance is key’ to Iraq’s future, UN envoy tells Security Council

Belgium: Youth Forum takes legal step to ban unpaid internships

European Commission recommends common EU approach to the security of 5G networks

The Future of Balkans: Embracing Education

The European Parliament fails to really restrict the rating agencies

Gas pipeline in the European Union. (Copyright: EU, 2012 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Ferenc Isza)

EU Investment Bank approves € 1.5bn loan for Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)

Could Europe become the first climate-neutral continent?

Venezuela’s needs ‘significant and growing’ UN humanitarian chief warns Security Council, as ‘unparalleled’ exodus continues

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s