VIDEO: Treasure of the Commons: Global Leadership through Health Data

Speaker: Sachin Aggarwal

Series: Data Governance in the Digital Age

April 18, 2018

VIDEO: Treasure of the Commons: Global Leadership through Health Data

Health care is the largest sector of the Canadian economy, representing more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP and approximately 38 percent of an average provincial budget. Moreover, 70 percent of Canada’s $242 billion health-care expenditure in 2017 was funded through its public, single-payer health-care system. Although the tangible effects of Canada’s public health-care system are felt by millions of Canadians daily, some benefits of the single-payer model have yet to be realized.

In this video, Sachin Aggarwal explains that an important by-product of Canada’s health-care system is the amount of health data that is collected by the provincial purveyors of public health care. According to Aggarwal, Canada has a structural advantage in the data-driven economy, which would allow the country to leverage health data to become a global leader in the delivery of personalized medicine, the advancement of artificial intelligence and the acceleration of medical research.

Should Canada decide to leverage the health data of its citizens, an important national conversation must happen first, resulting in what Aggarwal calls “a new social contract.” In this contract, Canadian data protection and data use details must be made explicit, Canadians must know that they can participate in their own data’s use and, lastly, Canadians must be allowed to withdraw their data.

Eleven percent of the Canadian economy is health care. That is the single largest sector of our economy. And if you think about how we’re set up, relative to some of our major competitors, we have large health-care markets — large, unified health-care markets. Size actually does matter in the data-driven economy. So, the quality of an algorithm that you build, an AI algorithm or a machine-learning algorithm, on a large set of data is simply better than a similar algorithm on a smaller set of data. So, when size matters and you’ve got single, large, unified markets, you can take advantage of that. So, we’re in a position to be able to lead.

The structure of our Canadian health-care system, the single-payer aspect, gives us a number of structural benefits, the most of important of which is our power to drive some sort of centralization through procurement and standards. So, if you’re using the public purse and the public procurement power, to be able to say to firms and to your entire health system, that data needs to become accessible for secondary use. And by secondary use what we mean is the ability to create additional products on top of that data.

We also have something else that’s really unique, and that’s an incredibly diverse population. And that takes several different forms. So, you’ve got some monolithic populations in parts of the country, so you’ve got genetic homogeneity in places like Newfoundland, which actually can be hugely beneficial from a health-care perspective because you can start to identify genetic differences. And then you’ve got diversity, so, we’ve got people from all over the world. And the data that comes from that diversity is incredibly valuable to be able to build tools that you can export to other parts of the world.

In the first generation of the data-driven economy, you had companies that mined your data without your knowledge. Tomorrow that won’t be quite so easy. We’re creating a new generation of people who are more hypersensitive and hyperaware to how their data is being used.

So, we have a choice. Either, we are transparent with people who are providing their data and we create a new social contract that allows their data to be protected, for them to know how it’s being used, for them to participate in how it’s being used. Unless we create that new social contract, people are going to withdraw their data sets and as people withdraw, or withdraw their data, the data sets shrink. Only with that trust, are we in a position to move forward on leadership through health data.

Series: Data Governance in the Digital Age

This series of videos explores topics including the rationale for a data strategy, the role of a data strategy for Canadian industries, and policy considerations for domestic and international data governance.

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Rationale of a Data Strategy

The Role of a Data Strategy for Canadian Industries

Balancing Privacy and Commercial Values

Domestic Policy for Data Governance

International Policy Considerations