Prevention Through Simulation: Health and Illness in the Age of Big Data

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk at workshop, seminar or courseScience to science


Outline: The ability to produce data using sensors and other sophisticated technologies combined
with computer-assisted means to record, collect and process information has reached a new scale.
Internet technologies in particular have enhanced the ways in which data sets can be combined
with each other. This enormous potential has been labelled as “big data”. In medicine especially,
big data is expected to hold the key for new ways of understanding health and illness. In such a
way, not only major advances in treatment become possible, but big data also bears the promise
to boost health prevention. To this end, the integration of medical knowledge, environmental
factors, individual physiology and lifestyle is needed. Engineers seek to develop computer
technologies that are capable of doing just that. Yet, they take data integration even a step further
to simulation. Simulation appears to be the perfect tool to predict health risks and diseases, since
it allows to test the effectiveness of treatment and preventive measures. It is important to point
out that such technologies do not exist, yet. Rather they are imaginaries of medical futures.This
early stage of the development offers the opportunity to address the desirability of such emerging
health technologies. In this paper, I report about focus group discussions in which we tried to
understand how differentgroups of society assess medical technologies that aim at fully exploiting
the potentials of big data. Against the backdrop of this empirical basis, I will discuss the
implications of digital medicine for our notions of health and illness.
Methodology: Focus group discussions are the methodological core of the project “Modelling
Health”. We recruited participants from various groups of society. The aim was to secure
diversification comprising both younger and older citizens, health care professionals, medical
doctors and students, care giving family members, athletes and recreational sports men and
women. In order to trigger off discussions on visionary medical futures, we produced video clips
showing different scenarios of possible application in prevention, rehabilitation and care for
elderly people. In these video clips, we depicted mock-up avatars capable of full data integration
and prediction to enhance imaginations of an emerging digital medicine.
Expected contribution: This paper aims at contributing to the assessment of Promises and future
visions of digital technologies in medicine. It critically reflects expectations and deliberately uses
imaginaries in order to facilitate discussions on the desirability of these emerging technologies. In
such a way, this paper contributes to a wider discussion on how our notion of health and illness
change over time and especially together with and in relation to new technologies.
Acknowledgement: This paper is based on the project “Modelling Health”. It is funded by the
Government of the Austrian Province Styira (Zukunftsfond: 8008). Projectleader: Prof. Dr. Kurt
Zatloukal, Institute of Pathology, Medical University Graz
Keywords: big data, digital health, simulation, prevention, health, illness
Period11 Oct 2018
Event titleCritical Engagement vs. Technophobia: The Risk of Emerging Technologies
Event typeWorkshop
LocationLjubljana, SloveniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology