Leveraging the value of data

Priit Tohver, advisor for e-Services innovation at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Estonia, speaks to Healthcare IT News ahead of HIMSS20.
By Tammy Lovell
06:51 AM

Update: The HIMSS Global Conference in Orlando has been canceled due to the coronavirus. Read more here.

Dr Priit Tohver is on a mission to make health data more usable.

The man overseeing the digital transformation and innovation of health and welfare systems in Estonia, became inspired as a medical student when he tried to use electronic health records (EHRs) for a study on ocular melanoma.

“That showed me how unsuitable the current health data is for any kind of analytics,” he explains. “To this day it drives me to make the health data we gather more structured and useful, not only to researchers and innovators but to physicians themselves, so that it can feed back into the healthcare system and we can learn as we go.”

At the HIMSS20 conference, Tohver will talk about a subject close to his heart – social determinants of health.

Since 2018, the Ministry of Social Affairs has been undertaking a project to identify disadvantaged youths aged 16-26 that are at danger of falling through the cracks of society.

By combining different state-level databases, researchers have identified young people not in education, training or employment so that they can be offered assistance from case workers.

“By not being in education or employment you’re putting your health at a disadvantage, so by addressing these factors smartly you’re achieving a health outcome,” Tohver says.

But the project has not been without its hurdles. “We experienced the challenges of combining data sets - even if you can do it on a technical level and the data is interoperable, there are challenges when it comes to the legal space and change management, because this data is usually sitting in silos.”

Initially, there was hesitance from officials about screening people without their consent. But, Tohver says feedback from the public has been positive and few have chosen to opt out of having their data processed in future. The programme has helped around 800 young people so far and provided valuable learnings for future projects.

“We learnt how this data can be combined, what kind of permits are needed, and that this kind of smart screening can be done after the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),” Tohver says.

The ministry now aims to leverage its learnings to better detect the risk of cardiovascular events by training an algorithm to analyse patients’ social background alongside clinical data.

“There’s a long-standing understanding that about 60% of health is dependent on things outside of the healthcare system and genes, such as social status and health behaviour. This is our first attempt to start tying that in on a systematic level.”

Once people at risk are identified, interventions could be offered to them, such as discussing statin treatment and other options with their primary care physician.

“Data can transform how evidence-based our decisions are, how many people suffer from medical error and the recovery process of people living with chronic disease. There’s always something that can be done better,” Tohver concludes.

The HIMSS20 conference is set for March 9-13 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Tohver will talk at Population health management toolbox for the future and Updates from the Nordic Interoperability Project.

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.