The path to better health outcomes in your pocket

The path to better health outcomes in your pocket

By Professor Dave Parry, Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences at Auckland University of Technology 

Have you ever had a health experience and wondered why it was just so hard to get the right answers? Despite the computer sitting on your doctor's desk, they didn’t seem to have the right information. Or you’ve been to see a specialist, who wasn’t able to access your information. It’s a confusing situation, especially when you know you have a National Health Identification (NHI) number.

The data is there – let's use it better

The huge volume of data and information being gathered but not used for anything productive inspires me to develop useful solutions.

Rather than designing and launching new systems that require people to download or register, and become familiar with, I’d rather find a way to improve patient care and overall efficiency in our health system by using information people are already collecting.

Take a look at your own smartphone. Chances are you have several apps that help track your health in some way.

Everyday many people use apps that they’ve chosen to collect data about their health. They might use a diet app and an exercise app for example. There’s a mine of information there, in a format they’re comfortable with, in a way they’ve chosen. My passion is finding ways we can use that information for good, without requiring more forms to be filled out, or more apps to be created, marketed and downloaded.

One research project this approach worked particularly well was for a gestational diabetes project.

By collating the data from two different sources – in this case diet apps and exercise apps – we were able to provide a much richer source of information for the women and their midwives in order to be able to manage their care. Knowing you can take existing data and turn it into something useful is really satisfying.

Big data is crucial to health outcomes, but security must be top of mind

Information security and privacy are some of the greatest concerns in this age of big data. The amount of information collected by both public and private organisations is massive and continues to grow exponentially. There is no doubt we, as a society, can benefit from that. Data used wisely can absolutely be a force for good, but as we’ve seen over the last several months, it’s not always managed well. Security breaches have unfortunately become common place, and in computer science we need to work to ensure not only we’re finding ways to use data, but actively securing it.

While New Zealand is enjoying the fruits of our lockdown, COVID-19 is still rampant around the world. We’ve seen how easily patient information can get into the wrong hands in recent months. Ultimately there are people at the end of the chain, but we must look at ways technology can be improved across the health sector to improve things for patients.

Good knowledge and data, and robust systems to share and access that information will allow us to change how health is delivered for the better.

Find out more about opportunities for students in digital health and health informatics: 

Study at AUT.

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