New project looks to have the MIDAS touch for healthcare data

9 Sep 201624 Shares

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Dr Michaela Black, Ulster University. Photo via Nigel McDowell/Ulster University

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Dr Michaela Black from Ulster University is leading an EU-funded project to make better use of healthcare data. Claire O’Connell found out more.

Information is everywhere. But when it comes to healthcare, unless we can bring the information together and analyse it, we won’t get the most from it.

That’s where a new EU-funded project called MIDAS (Meaningful Integration of Data, Analytics and Services) hopes to make its mark.

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The 40-month project, which was awarded more than €4.5m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, will use hardware and software solutions to connect fragmented health data and enable policymakers to use it, explains lead researcher and MIDAS project co-ordinator Dr Michaela Black from Ulster University (UU).

Bringing fractured data together

“A problem in healthcare is that healthcare systems have very fractured, unstructured, unconnected data,” said Black, who heads the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems at UU.

“[In the project] we have a solution where you don’t need to redesign or move data – we can deliver the hardware and software to connect very different types of unstructured data and then use the data to measure how effective policies are.”

‘A problem in healthcare is that healthcare systems have very fractured, unstructured, unconnected data’
– DR MICHAELA BLACK, ULSTER UNIVERSITY

Black noted that the MIDAS approach will seek to take other types of health-related data into account too, such as information from social media, or from wearable devices that track movement and records of eating habits.

“It is really about making more use of healthcare data so we can get more effective resources for healthcare.”

End users at the start

An interesting element of the project is that it involves health policy partners from the very start. “Normally, projects have an end user, but what is niche about this is that the end user is part of the team,” said Black.

These end users in the consortium – which include the NHS and the HSE – will use the system to analyse health issues of interest to them. That might be mental health in one jurisdiction and diabetes in another. “We want them to look at different problems and we will share what we learn across the consortium,” said Black.

Other partners include IBM Ireland, Dublin City University (which is more generally building connections with UU around healthy ageing), Arizona State University (ASU), and organisations in Finland, Belgium, Spain and Slovenia.

ASU’s involvement will allow the project to look at private healthcare too, noted Black, who hopes that the learnings from the entire consortium will spread out beyond the project’s lifespan.

“The key to this project is having the policy-makers involved,” she said. “They will grow the project within their healthcare region and then help spread it across Europe.”

‘The key to this project is having the policy-makers involved. They will grow the project within their healthcare region and then help spread it across Europe’
– DR MICHAELA BLACK, ULSTER UNIVERSITY

Athena Swan Award

Black’s career has seen her apply machine learning and data mining in both telecoms and healthcare, and she would like to see more women working in this field.

She is part of the Athena Swan team at UU to promote diversity and equality and, earlier this year, the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems received a Bronze Award.

“My big passion for Athena Swan is to increase the number of females we are studying my subject,” she said.

“As head of school, I am looking at what we are doing – how we advertise jobs, roles within the school, flexibility – and the big drive both across the staff and students [is to] increase the number of female ambassadors we have speaking more and raise aspirations about the area.”

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