Health Data Research UK’s mission is to unite the UK’s health and care data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives. Our strategic plan to achieve this has many integrated areas of activity, with technological innovation of the infrastructure being one of them.

Despite significant progress in recent years, access to and analysis of health data for research remains a lengthy and fragmented process. There are many technology solutions available to support researchers, including software programmes, tools, scripts, pipelines, platforms, and code, but they are dispersed across many organisations and groups working within this space, and there’s often limited sharing and re-use of the solutions developed across the wider community.

We are bringing together all of these individual components through the convening of a technology ecosystem, embedding a collaborative approach to co-create novel solutions that promote open science and encourage interoperability. This will allow health data science to scale at a greater pace than ever before; transforming how researchers access and analyse health data and enabling them to rapidly deliver patient and public benefit.

The technology ecosystem is made up of several connecting parts

  • Our aim is to build and convene a network of technologists across the NHS, academia, policy and industry to align efforts, share tools, understand each other’s work, collaborate on shared components, agree on standards and interoperability, and learn from each other.

  • There is a recognised shortage of people trained with the skills needed to develop technology solutions and a lack of clear career development pathways, particularly in the academic sector.

    Our aim is to build capacity and support the career development of research software engineers, technologists and data scientists through training, recognition and collaboration with partner organisations.

    We are a proud signatory of the Technician Commitment, a university and research institution initiative which aims to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines.

  • Many technology solutions can be applied to other types of sensitive data, not just health data. Through our co-leadership with Administrative Data Research UK of the Data and Analytics Research Environments (DARE) UK programme, we will provide thought leadership in this space to support cross-sector data analysis and innovation.

    Our technology solutions are being designed to integrate with other non-sensitive data types too, such as location, weather, and air pollution data.

  • We promote and use existing standards, including the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) standards, the Observational Medical Outcomes Partnership (OMOP), and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FIHR) data standards.

    We work closely with the UK Health Data Research Alliance to support the adoption of standards across the research community and will only create new standards where there is a recognised need.

    We encourage the use of both open-source development and open-APIs for technology solutions within the technology ecosystem to support interoperability, reuse and scalability.

  • In the field of health data science, technology solutions are often developed to answer specific health-based questions and are rarely recognised independently. We aim to value these advances in their own right by building capacity and engaging with technologists from other disciplines, leveraging their expertise and acknowledging the growth of research infrastructure and technology as a distinct academic discipline.

  • There are many technology solutions already out there in the ecosystem. As part of supporting an effective ecosystem, we are working closely with the community to signpost to existing solutions, develop standards and best practice, and encourage integration of these tools. Such solutions enable the researcher journey, facilitate the latest AI and large-scale analysis techniques and curate usable data.

    We are also contributing to the ecosystem, enhancing and developing a range of innovative solutions , such as the Gateway, the Phenotype Library, the development of a Disease Atlas, and Federated Analytics. Our solutions are open-source, with open-APIs and documentation, built with and for the community. We welcome collaborators and feedback on our solutions.

    We aim to assemble, reuse and enhance existing solutions wherever possible and will only consider new solutions when there is a genuine requirement for it. These solutions will be co-developed with the community and designed and built once for the benefit and use of many.