June 7, 2018: NIH Releases First Strategic Plan for Data Science

On June 4, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its first Strategic Plan for Data Science. The plan outlines steps the agency will take to modernize research data infrastructure and resources and to maximize the value of data generated by NIH-supported research.

Data science challenges for NIH have evolved and grown rapidly since the launch of the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) program in 2014. The most pressing challenges include the growing costs of data management, limited interconnectivity and interoperability among data resources, and a lack of generalizable tools to transform, analyze, and otherwise support the usability of data for researchers, institutions, industry, and the public.

The goals of the NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science are to:

  • support an efficient, effective data infrastructure by optimizing data storage, security, and interoperability;
  • modernize data resources by improving data repositories, supporting storage and sharing of individual data sets, and integrating clinical and observational data;
  • develop and disseminate both generalizable and specialized tools for data management, analytics, and visualization;
  • enhance workforce development for data science by expanding NIH’s internal data science workforce and supporting expansion of the national research workforce, and by engaging a broader community of experts and the general public in developing best practices; and
  • enact policies that promote stewardship and sustainability of data science resources.

As part of the implementation of the strategic plan, the NIH will hire a chief data strategist. For information about the position, see the job announcement.

In Nature: The Precision Medicine Initiative & DNA Data Sharing


A recent article in Nature highlights the Precision Medicine Initiative, launched in January 2015 and spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health. Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. This initiative will involve collection of data on genomes, electronic health records, and physiological measurements from 1 million participants. A main objective is for participants to be active partners in research.

But a major decision faced by the initiative’s working group is how much information to share with participants about disease risk, particularly genetic data. Though there is much debate in the field, the article suggests that public opinion on data sharing may be shifting toward openness.

The Precision Medicine Initiative working group will be releasing a plan soon. For details on the goals of the Precision Medicine Initiative, read the perspective by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins in the New England Journal of Medicine.


 

In the News: Increase in Use of Personal Health Data


An explosion in the collection of personal data is fostering concerns about the extent to which health information is accessed—and about the privacy and confidentiality of this information. Two recent National Public Radio stories highlight a few of the burgeoning uses of these abundant data.

In the first, an insurer uses personal data to predict who will get sick so it can identify patients at highest risk for hospital admission, or readmission, and then provide them with personal health coaches. The coordinated care given to patients by the coaches (for example, arranging a visiting nurse or streamlining appointments) has been shown to improve hospitalization rates. The insurer says it follows federal health privacy guidelines for anonymity and uses the information to better serve its members.

The second story explains that results of online health searches aren’t always confidential, and data brokers are tracking information and selling it to interested parties. The author notes that data gathered on the Web are, for the most part, unregulated. Both stories raise questions about privacy and confidentiality of health information and how to best protect it.

Pragmatic clinical trials also seek to use personal health data to answer important questions on the risks, benefits, and burdens of therapeutic interventions. In a blog post in Health Affairs, Joe Selby, executive director of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), underscores the need for trust, support, and active engagement of patients when involving them in health data research, even with privacy protections in place. PCORI has launched the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORnet) as a means of harnessing large clinical data sets to study the comparative effectiveness of treatments, and a central tenet of the network is that patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems should be actively involved in the governance of the use of health information.


Read the full articles

From NPR: Insurer Uses Personal Data To Predict Who Will Get Sick
From NPR: Online Health Searches Aren't Always Confidential
From Health Affairs: Advancing the Use of Health Data in Research With PCORnet

 

Latest Truven Health Analytics–NPR Health Poll on Medical Data Privacy


How concerned are people about the privacy of their medical information? Not very—according to the November 2014 Truven Health Analytics–NPR Health Poll (opens as PDF). The poll asked how respondents feel about sharing their electronic health information and other data with researchers, employers, health plans, and their doctors. The majority expressed a willingness to share their anonymized health information with researchers; less than a quarter expressed willingness to share non-healthcare data with their healthcare providers.

Each month, the Truven Health Analytics–NPR Health Poll surveys approximately 3,000 Americans to gauge attitudes and opinions on a wide range of healthcare issues. Poll results are reported by NPR on the health blog Shots. Among the results of this survey:

  • 74% of respondents indicated that their physician uses an electronic medical record system.
  • 68% of respondents would share their health information anonymously with researchers.
  • 44% of respondents have looked through their health information kept by their physician.

The survey analyses were stratified by age, education, generation, and income. Poll questions were posed by cell phone, land line, and online during the first half of August 2014. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. An executive summary of the survey, including questions and survey data, is here.