Johan AsklingBig data is big news in society. There is a huge debate about the promise it offers in terms of informing decisions versus the threat to personal privacy (the dawning of GDPR legislation and the recent wave of data consent requests is testament to that). At the ESCP's 13th Scientific and Annual Conference in September Professor Johan Askling will present the keynote lecture: Big data in surgical practice - the new gold standard? We spoke to him to get a taste of what the session will cover.

Professor Johan Askling is based at the Clinical Epidemiology Unit and Rheumatology Unit at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. His research interests also extend to Colorectal Cancer and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Professor Askling's interest in the potential for the medical fraternity to embrace the potential day-to-day applications of big data is born out of his research work applying healthcare data from large scale registers (common in Sweden). E-health systems are also expanding in clinical practices there.

"Big data is already helping the private sector make smart decisions. It is changing society. It is even replacing traditional competencies in some sectors. If it can help Amazon decide which books to sell, how can it help us make smarter decisions for our patients? The healthcare sector is already lagging behind in this space. We need to get off the starting blocks and figure out how to work with electronic data effectively for patient care rather than just using big data sets and machine learning techniques for research purposes." states Professor Askling.

There are examples of how the use of data is increasing in the sector, such as the ability to identify risk of hospitalisation through the analysis of huge chunks of medical information referring to specific conditions.

Professor Askling is passionate about the need for the health sector to understand the concept so that informed decisions can be made about the potential to apply big data uses to clinical practice, saying,

"How could care reliant on big data be shaped? It could be about better diagnostics or improved monitoring/analysis of real-time patient data to inform decision making for instance."

Professor Askling is certain of one thing:

"Increased use of big data will challenge the contract between the patient and care communities. As it stands, health professionals only ever know what the patient actively tells them alongside the insight from tests and procedures undertaken. But there is potential for more. There are big ethical questions to be addressed and we have to ask ourselves what sort of medical society we want to live in."

When asked why delegates should attend the session, Professor Askling underlines the need for researchers and health professionals across the spectrum to inform themselves on the dynamic opportunities offered by big data application, both for research and for clinical practice. He says:

"There is already a gradual shift in attitudes to sharing personal data which is mixed with a number of watershed moments, like the recent Cambridge Analytica issue."

Professor Askling concludes:

"We are increasingly moving towards e-based healthcare and that lends itself to the application and use of big data. We have to think now about how we want to progress."

Book your place at the 13th Scientific and Annual meeting of ESCP in Nice here

Johan Askling’s Keynote Lecture: Big data in surgical practice - the new gold standard? 08:40, Friday 28 September 2018.

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