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Power of big data to improve patient care in gastroenterology
  1. Jamie Catlow1,2,
  2. Benjamin Bray3,4,
  3. Eva Morris5,
  4. Matt Rutter1,2
  1. 1Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Gastroenterology, University Hospital of North Tees, Stockton-on-Tees, UK
  3. 3Medical Director & Head of Epidemiology, EMEA Data Science, IQVIA Europe, Reading, UK
  4. 4Medicine Clinical Academic Group, King's College London, London, UK
  5. 5Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jamie Catlow, Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK; j.catlow1{at}


Big data is defined as being large, varied or frequently updated, and usually generated from real-world interaction. With the unprecedented availability of big data, comes an obligation to maximise its potential for healthcare improvements in treatment effectiveness, disease prevention and healthcare delivery. We review the opportunities and challenges that big data brings to gastroenterology. We review its sources for healthcare improvement in gastroenterology, including electronic medical records, patient registries and patient-generated data. Big data can complement traditional research methods in hypothesis generation, supporting studies and disseminating findings; and in some cases holds distinct advantages where traditional trials are unfeasible. There is great potential power in patient-level linkage of datasets to help quantify inequalities, identify best practice and improve patient outcomes. We exemplify this with the UK colorectal cancer repository and the potential of linkage using the National Endoscopy Database, the inflammatory bowel disease registry and the National Health Service bowel cancer screening programme. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly being used to improve diagnostics in gastroenterology, with image analysis entering clinical practice, and the potential of machine learning to improve outcome prediction and diagnostics in other clinical areas. Big data brings issues with large sample sizes, real-world biases, data curation, keeping clinical context at analysis and General Data Protection Regulation compliance. There is a tension between our obligation to use data for the common good and protecting individual patient’s data. We emphasise the importance of engaging with our patients to enable them to understand their data usage as fully as they wish.

  • health service research
  • statistics
  • clinical trials

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  • Twitter @drjamiec, @Rutter_Matt

  • Contributors JC wrote the definitions, Sources, research and issues sections of the manuscript, compiled others’ section and submitted the paper. JC addressed reviewers comments. BB wrote the machine learning and artificial intelligence section, contributed to the definitions and issues sections, and reviewed drafts. EM contributed to the power of linkage section and reviewed drafts. MR wrote the power of linkage section, significantly edited the entire manuscript and reviewed drafts.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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