On October 15-16, in New York City, the WIRED Health Conference in association with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation convened a conference to explore the challenges and opportunities of data-driven medicine. Featured speakers included geneticist Craig Venter, MIT’s Gig Hirsch, architect Michael Graves, and Intel’s Andy Grove. The subject was “Big Data”. The question was what is Big Data and what does it mean for health care providers and consumers?
The federal government has acknowledged this predicament and recently set aside more than $200 million to fund big data initiatives. Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded about $15 million to fund eight big data research projects. The awards will “ultimately help accelerate research to improve health — by developing methods for extracting important, biomedically relevant information from large amounts of complex data,” said NIH Director, Francis Collins in a press release. Other researchers are mining social media data to monitor the adverse effects of certain medications, and the NIH has also put the data from the 1000 Genomes Project in the cloud for other scientists to use.
The slate of sessions at the live-streamed WIRED conference showcased the many ways data can be deployed to improve health and wellness. Former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove issued a call to arms to free healthcare data, making his case for radical price transparency in medicine. Another session at the conference spotlighted the work of Nicholas Christakis, director of the Human Nature Laboratory at Harvard University who said, “there’s a lot of talk about personal data, but even more important than individuals’ wellness behavior is the way that networks of people affect each other’s health.” Craig Venter imagined a future where you can download software, print a vaccine, inject it, and presto! Contagion averted.
– Dr. William “Phred” Pilkington, Chief Executive Officer & Director of Public Health Cabarrus Health Alliance