Chief medical officer calls for data-driven health strategy

Health chief says data must be used to radically improve the nation’s health by 2040, using equipment such as wearable technologies

England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, has called for a health index to measure the components of good health.

In her annual report – the 10th she has overseen – Davies said data must be used to radically improve the nation’s health by 2040, using wearable technologies, for example.

A Department of Health and Social Care statement accompanying the report said that the proposed health index will “capture the social determinants of health, risk factors such as obesity and outcomes such as cancer survival”.

It went on: “Health is multi-faceted. If we harness all components, including social determinants of health, the environment and delivery of healthcare, we can effectively reduce health inequalities by 2040.”

In the report summary, Davies wrote: “By 2040, we will be able to accurately predict chronic diseases a decade before they become symptomatic and thus enable individualised prevention measures. Vast progress in computing power and predictive analytics will be able to integrate unstructured data that sits outside of organised and traditional medical databases. This will improve disease progression prediction, allowing optimal preventative and treatment options for each individual.”

The department statement also asserted: “Wearables can transform the prevention, diagnosis and management of long-term conditions, keeping patients in better health for longer, and new imaging techniques that harness AI will diagnose conditions more speedily, regardless of time or location.”

In her summary, Davies said that the report “identifies wearable technology with novel biosensors that offer continuous monitoring and titration [chemical analysis] as a way to transform chronic disease management outside of traditional settings”.

She added: “Diagnostics’ high predictive value that combine novel biomarkers, genomics and wider clinical datasets will bring the diagnostics laboratory to the patient as part of their daily lives.”

According to the department statement, the report propounds a “unified approach … supported by ground-breaking technology and research that can transform both self-management of long-term conditions and the delivery of healthcare across the country”.

Davies said in the statement: “A more equal, healthier society is within our grasp, but we need to be brave, bold and seize the moment.

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“Health is our main asset as a nation – a healthier population translates to a healthier economy. By repositioning health and reshaping our environment, we can make it easier to live well for longer and reduce the gap in health inequalities between the richest and poorest in our society.

“We can, and should, make our environment fairer and healthier for all.”

The proposed health index will, she said, “bring the disparate measures of health outcomes, risk factors, social determinants and inequalities together into a coherent package, supported by a new research paradigm for technology”.

The report also advocated a preventive approach. The statement flagging the report said: “50% of chronic diseases and 40% of cancers are preventable if we effectively tackle risks including unhealthy diets, smoking, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption and air pollution.

“By focusing on the cause of diseases, we can identify clear interventions and innovations to make an impact, such as reducing the amount of sugar and salt in our daily foods, or wearable technology to help manage long-term conditions.

“This will support the ambition of healthy life expectancy to increase by five years for all, with the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived communities to be halved.”

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