Data holds key to unlocking health-care, researchers say

Data holds key to unlocking health-care, researchers say
Data holds key to unlocking health-care, researchers say

The Edinburgh Futures Institute has funded a research project exploring whether enabling local communities to make better use of available data could aid the provision of health-care.

Researchers at the University expect that data collected by private and public providers of basic health-care – such as patient records and medicine distribution – could empower members of communities in deprived areas to make more informed decisions about their health.

Local community data on healthcare

Power struggle

The EFI Research Award-winning team – led by Dr Jean-Benoît Falisse – conducted interviews with government officials and activists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers from Social and Political Science and Design Informatics are examining whether improved handling of data could grant the disadvantaged a more powerful voice to demand access to basic services from providers.

Activists and officials have raised concerns that increasingly abundant data could toughen the already existing power relationships. Private providers could use it to further maximise profit and a state with autocratic tendencies could use it to monitor its population.

Technological challenges

In D.R. Congo, local officials highlighted that the technology to compile data-sets, which could increase the accessibility of basic health-care, is not easy to access. Many people there receive vital information through churches and FM radios.

Interviews with Indian officials suggest that the data there is often incomplete and not always helpful for the main goal, which is to improve basic health-care and make it more accessible.

Positive impact

Despite these challenges, the collection of data itself could have a positive impact. Indian activists believe that collecting data helps people understand their situation better and gives them leverage in negotiating with the state.

The inaugural Research Award given out by the Edinburgh Futures Institute helps Dr Falisse’s team to further explore these global challenges.

With the goal of connecting existing knowledge, Dr Falisse organised a workshop with experts from a range of fields – including Informatics, Medicine and Anthropology – to share their insights and exchange ideas.

They were joined by 20 online participants from all around the world.

Dr Falisse is confident with this data-driven project.

“Data has always been part of my work, but it was not always central. The £5000 grant from the Edinburgh Futures Institute has enabled me to connect interdisciplinary expertise with key strands of the work my team and I are doing, while supporting our strong focus on data throughout the research.”