Belgian stakeholders make recommendations for urgently needed data science strategy in healthcare
Antwerp, Belgium, 21/06/2022 – Inovigate, a consulting company for the healthcare industry, together with the Belgian Association of Hospital Managers (BAHM), has united stakeholders to express the need for a Belgian action plan on the integration of data science in healthcare. Their recommendations are now published in two white paper reports.
Hospitals and healthcare professionals gather immense amounts of patient data every day. These real-world data (RWD) – such as medical records, imaging data, or lab analyses – are a source of potentially lifesaving insights if they can be reused in research. For example, RWD can be used to determine long-term efficacy/safety of treatments and vaccines across a large population, or to develop personalized medicine. However, RWD records vary in quality and differ across institutions, making them hard for scientists to use without the presence of well-aligned national strategies for data collection and access
Belgium could be top for real-world data, but action is needed now
Belgium was one of the first European countries to implement electronic health records, and the first to roll out the electronic ID card to the whole population. The country has also long had the highest number of clinical trials per capita in the EU. Nevertheless, Belgium currently lags behind its neighbors on real-world data reuse. The country needs concrete solutions for the many tricky problems data reuse presents, such as data uniformization, security, and patient privacy. Furthermore, progress will require government investments and the establishment of a regulatory framework, both which have yet to happen.
Ingrid Maes, Managing Director and Co-founder at Inovigate: “Investing in real-world data reuse is a strategic move for the Belgian government, with returns generated through less costly reimbursements, new research insights, and improved healthcare. Progress in this space is not the sole responsibility of policymakers though: we need to unite stakeholders and create a plan that makes everyone’s roles and responsibilities clear. We need to take decisive action now if we want Belgium to remain a top country for innovation, clinical trials, and healthcare!”
Recommendations for real-world data reuse in Belgium
Based on extensive research,interviews and a round table discussion with different stakeholders, Inovigate and BAHM have presented a report: Recommendations on a Real-World Data Strategy for Belgium. The report puts forward practical solutions for data collection, quality, analysis, and reporting. Suggestions include establishing a committee or institute to facilitate alignment across the ecosystem, for example ensuring that medical specialists and data scientists agree on a core set of data types to be collected during routine care. Belgium will need to create specialized data storage spaces, as well as a common coding system to allow for easy integration and interpretation of datasets of different origins. The report also lists recommendations for data governance, privacy, and funding. Stakeholders agree that a national consent model is necessary, and propose a combination of public and private funding as the most sustainable strategy. Finally, the report also specifies the responsibilities of the various stakeholders involved, from patients to clinicians, hospitals, researchers and authorities.
Belgian proof of concept project
Project ATHENA (Augmenting Therapeutic Effectiveness through Novel Analytics) is a collaborative network established to explore the potential of precision medicine in oncology. This VLAIO-funded pioneering project brings together stakeholders from different parts of the Belgian ecosystem, including from academia (KU Leuven and UGent), hospitals (UZ Leuven, UZ Gent, AZ Groeninge, CHU Liège, and OLV Aalst), and industry (Janssen, Inovigate, imec, Illumina, and Robovision).
Following the first report, Inovigate reached out to various stakeholders to collect their views on the governance and sustainability of the ATHENA platform, using the project as a proof of concept for a Belgian federated learning approach. The insights were compiled in a second report: The Use of Real-World Data for Personalized Medicine. The report identified the ATHENA approach as very promising, particularly as it addresses issues related to the sharing of sensitive medical data. Notably, stakeholders also agreed that it is extremely important for the country to harbor talent and train professionals in data science in healthcare.
Pascal Verdonck, president of BAHM: “Healthcare is rapidly transitioning into a new world of patient choice and experience, focusing on value based & integrated care and health outcomes. We must prepare for this data-driven medicine. These reports are contributing to a broader and continued debate with all stakeholders. BAHM will further align with the Belgian governments to define a safe and secure data environment that makes Belgium a top region for health data, to benefit the Belgian society and economy.”
The reports, Recommendations on a Real-World Data Strategy for Belgium and The Use of Real-World Data for Personalized Medicine, can be found on www.inovigate.com