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4S Preview: Bioinformation management in data driven medicine

Karoliina Snell, Ilpo Helén and Aaro Tupasela

17 August, 2016

We are publishing a series of posts highlighting some of the tracks on the program of the 2016 4S conference, which will convene jointly with the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) in Barcelona, August 31-September 3. The theme of this year’s 4S/EASST conference is “science and technology by other means.” For more information on "Bioinformation management in data driven medicine," and to view the accepted abstracts, please see the track page. - Ed.

It’s all about data.

We are hosting a track called “Bioinformation management in data driven medicine”.  Why? Because big data and possibilities of combining all sorts of data are currently the key drivers of health policy and biomedical endeavours. Great emphasis is put on the possibilities of large data collections and big data to generate economic growth and value. In addition to economic competitiveness, big data collections and its analysis are seen to enhance medical research, development of drugs and diagnostics and to boost peoples’ health in totally new ways. According to OECD, health services is one of the sectors where the adoption of data analytics is seen to have the highest impact in the relative short run. This concerns especially genomic data or data collected through health applications.

The data-driven approaches to health and medicine are considered by some to constitute a paradigm change. Concepts linked to data-driven medicine – such as personalised health, personalised genomic medicine, eHealth and digital health technologies – are gaining ground with scientists, health professionals and policy makers in Finland and internationally. What is common with all of these new rationales of health care is that they create vast amount of information about both individuals and populations. New health services, medical research and diagnostic tools are based on big data. In addition, the paradigms reshape the roles of individuals and populations in health care through various process such as digitalisation, commercialisation, aggregation and (re)construction of data in an unprecedented way.

The premises and promises of the new data-driven health paradigm need to be examined critically. This means analysing the policies, national and international research efforts and infrastructures that are thriving towards data-driven medicine. In Finland, the public health care sector is going through highly politicised structural changes which are coinciding with increased pressures to cut costs and enhance efficiency as well as visions of an innovative and competitive health sector that produces new products and services. Ministries have published documents such as the “growth strategy for research and innovation activities in the health sector” that aims at generating investments and innovation in health care; and the “national genome strategy” where the goal is to bring utilisation of genomic information into routines of health care in Finland by 2020. The new government has chosen “health and the changing of lifestyles” as one area of strategic research and emphasises customer orientation in health care.

In addition to the policy level, we need to go deeper into the practices of handling data to understand how data is being constructed, used, analysed, circulated, combined or even manipulated in various processes. When data is seen as the solution for many problems and political, clinical and financial decisions (to name a few) are being based on vast amounts of data, we need to analyse and theorise the practices of data handling and management. We invite all interested STS scholars to join our session.


Karoliina Snell is a University Researcher at the Department of Social Reearch, University of Helsinki

Ilpo Helén is a Professor at the Department of Social Sciences, University of Eastern Finland


Aaro Tupasela is an Associate professor at the Section of Health Services Research, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen

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