INAH, a new tool for big medical data

December 17th 2018

The Institute of Analytics for Health is a new organisation in the Walloon health network. Its purpose is to make patient health data available to research centres and private businesses, in an ethical and secure manner.

L’Institute of Analytics for Health est un nouveau dispositif du Réseau Santé Wallon. Son objectif : mettre les données de santé des patients à disposition des centres de recherche et des entreprises privées, de façon éthique et sécurisée. The collection, storage, access, and processing of patient health data are major challenges in e-health. In this context, the Walloon health network (Réseau Santé Wallon, RSW) already enables healthcare providers to share patients' digital health files: test results, medical reports, etc. The data is also valuable to research centres and biopharma companies. But how can this data be shared while adhering to confidentiality and privacy standards? This is what the Institute of Analytics for Health (INAH) was tasked to do.

INAH, a new tool for the Walloon health network
INAH is a flagship project of the CATCH recovery programme. ‘We started from RSW's existing secure platform’, explains Augustin Coppée, head of CATCH's ‘Health & Bio’ branch. ‘We are reusing the same tools and principles, but changing the people involved: requests can now be submitted by research centres or private companies. They already are in touch with physicians and hospitals, but on an ad hoc basis; what INAH offers is to accelerate communication and centralise requests.

Eventually, INAH will accept two types of request:
• requests for epidemiological data intended for R&D (e.g. prevalence of burnouts in the population, searches for a specific type of tumour, etc.)
• requests made by intelligent agents, which are algorithms that can identify patients at risk (preventing diseases such as diabetes) or patients that might respond best to a given treatment.

How it works
In every case, requests will first be examined by an ethics committee. Then, INAH will ‘anonymise’ or ‘pseudonymise’ the data before sending it to the requestor. ‘Requestors will not have direct access to patients, nor to “raw” patient data’, reassures Augustin Coppée. ‘If there is a need to contact the patient, for instance to suggest taking a screening test, this will only be done through their primary care physician.

Pilot phase ongoing
A pilot phase was recently launched, based on 4 actual requests. Its objective is twofold: formalise the procedure, and demonstrated its added value by the end of 2019. ‘The data of 1.7 million Walloons is already being shared through RSW’, adds Augustin Coppée. ‘In addition to the added value for companies and for research, all of Wallonia's population can benefit from the services offered by INAH. The tool could also quickly be opened to national and international databases.