Aidan Peppin, Research Graduate at UPD, shares his impressions of the event ‘Healthcare Data: How do we get it right?’. The summary report of the event is here.    

Data and health is a complex but exciting topic. The potential for big data and emerging technologies to improve health and care is real, but the technological, social, ethical, infrastructural, and political challenges to realise it are real too.

It was with this mindset that I joined the Understanding Patient Data team in September 2018. I wanted to understand more about the incredible work being done to overcome these barriers, and do what part I can to contribute. I transitioned into the UPD team through the graduate programme at Wellcome, which I’ve been part of since September 2017. I come from a social sciences background, where I’ve studied and researched intersections between society, culture, science, and tech.

In my first week with UPD, the team co-convened ‘Healthcare and Data: How do we get it right?’ with Julian Huppert and Hal Hodson at the Jesus College Intellectual Forum in Cambridge. The event brought together a wide range of individuals to share their perspectives and join in debate on a range of issues related to data and health.

Representatives from key public organisations, hospitals, universities, charities, patient groups and technology companies led panels and received questions from the audience in a day-long open session, followed by a closed roundtable discussion to consolidate the debate. The aim was to describe the barriers to getting health and data right, and then identify solutions and actions to overcome them.

My first task with UPD was to keep track of the whole event, taking notes of the debates and discussions - all captured in 12,000 words of notes and fuelled by many teas, coffees, and pastries. As someone getting familiar with the health data landscape, it was a crash course crammed into four panel sessions, two keynote speeches, nearly four-hours of roundtable discussions, and many informal conversations.

The resulting report contains a summary of what was discussed, distilled into themes and structured to reflect the aim of identifying barriers and solutions. Coming from a background in qualitative research, it was an exciting prospect to collect and collate rich textual data on a complex and important issue like data and health, before analysing it to pull out the key themes and structure them in a way which yields insight. It captures the breadth of the challenges we face around data and health, and the potential benefits that can come from using data to improve peoples’ health and lives.  

What this report cannot capture though, but something which struck me throughout the event – and has stayed with me since – is the positivity, and determination of those working in this space to get the relationship between health and data right. It was a privilege to hear such an array of perspectives, and inspiring to see the passion and good-intent with which issues of data and health are approached. As the new vision for digital, data and technology in health and care outlined by the Secretary of State drives innovation forward, it’s clear these conversations and approaches are more timely and important than ever.