Scotland has some of the world’s best cancer data and some of the world’s best data scientists and data companies. But what Scotland doesn’t have is very good cancer outcomes. So how can we use data, our skills and our networks to deliver better cancer treatments and results?
Data has huge potential to change both how we deliver healthcare and how we can use our own personally generated data to deliver better treatments and outcomes—theoretically. Delivering the vision is the difficult bit. Individual health and treatment records are often effectively locked in silos, and it’s very hard to do systemic analyses of clinical data in real time across health boards. Many of the treatment systems we rely upon aren’t designed to talk to each other in a systematic way or to share data.
At the same time, our data—and particularly our health data—is our most personal, private possession, and sharing it is a big deal. Cancer patients don’t see it that way. They’re often happy to give their data away if that data can help treat someone else. This is part of a wider shift in approach where patients get individual treatments that are increasingly based on lessons learned from cohorts: groups of patients with similar diseases. So how can data help solve clinical problems and deliver better treatments, and how can data from patients about how they feel, what they’re doing, whether the drugs are working, and so on support treatments in real time?
The Cancer Innovation Challenge was set up in 2016 to help answer these questions. Hosted at The Data Lab at the University of Edinburgh, the challenge is an open innovation program that links companies and universities with clinicians, patients, data owners, and health networks across Scotland and the UK to develop prototypes and proofs of concept in the NHS that use data to help deliver better care for cancer patients. Dave Fitch shares lessons learned from two years leading Scotland’s Cancer Innovation Challenge, from developing and delivering the proposal to the key lessons as objectives shifted from “do cool stuff with data” to practical, relevant and deliverable solutions. You’ll also learn how the challenge separated technical and political problems and how a small project with a large network is changing a country’s understanding of how data can be used and open the door for fundamental changes in how Scotland uses and benefits from health data.
Dave Fitch is head of operations at The Data Lab, where he is responsible for managing project development, contracting, and HR teams, as well as all aspects of The Data Lab’s sponsored project delivery. Dave also leads a range of strategic projects, including the Cancer Innovation Challenge.
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