Big data initiative to impact on health

A £20 million project aims to harness the power of healthcare and government data to improve the lives of patients and the wider population.

Two major research institutes, involving universities and the NHS, are using healthcare and public authority records to develop health treatments and improve public policy.

They are benefiting from UK funding to support cutting edge medical, healthcare and social research aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations in Scotland, the wider UK and overseas.

The funding is led by the Medical Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council.

Secure data

Scotland is one of the best places in the world to conduct data-driven research. The Farr Institute and the ADRC, working together, can provide new exciting research opportunities to securely exploit data to improve health.

Shona RobisonScottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care

The Farr Institute Scotland and the Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland (ADRC-S) are based at Edinburgh BioQuarter, a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise and NHS Lothian.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder, they are at the forefront of big data - analysing extremely large and complex sets of data to reveal patterns and trends that can provide meaningful information to inform research and decision making.

The Farr Institute Scotland - a collaboration between six Scottish universities and NHS National Services Scotland - is developing procedures to securely curate electronic health records.

Improved wellbeing

These are designed to protect patient confidentiality while providing researchers with datasets to enable new medical discoveries, validation of treatments, and improved NHS healthcare delivery.

Researchers will work with the information to develop commercial drugs, diagnostic tests and life-saving medical technology, at a speed and scale not previously possible.

The ADRC-S works with government records, helping researchers to use anonymised data - such as on road accidents or benefit payments - to create a broad picture of society.

This helps to track changes in people’s behaviour, such as in response to new policies.

Society issues

Researchers will be able to combine ADRC data with the Farr Institute’s medical datasets to discover new ways to help individuals, populations and policymakers.

Information from multiple sources could overturn established views on how to tackle social and healthcare problems - enabling better health and wellbeing, at reduced economic cost.

Huge, privacy-protected, data sets can be created by curating patient and other population-based data as well as from genetic information from populations.

Health systems internationally are challenged to deliver better quality healthcare at reduced cost so we must find new innovative ways, underpinned by cutting edge research and new knowledge, to provide services and treatments that are better and cheaper. To do this requires complete and high quality data at the local, regional and national level, and collaboration between the public, researchers, the NHS, Government and industry. That is what the Farr Institute is all about.

Professor Andrew MorrisVice Principal Data Science, University of Edinburgh, and Director, Farr Institute Scotland

Linking together collections of administrative data can help us to use data intelligently – creating better knowledge for a better society. This is extremely valuable for social and economic research. Our studies have the potential to influence future government policy and to measure how policy decisions change society.

Professor Chris DibbenDirector, ADRC Scotland