Federated Networks for Distributed Analysis of Health Data

Health Data has great potential for improving diagnostic accuracy and treatment outcomes of both common and rare diseases, yet access or sharing of this data outside the host institution is often very limited.

Access to health data, important for population health planning, basic and clinical research and health industry utilization, remains problematic. 

Legislation intended to improve access to personal data across national borders has proven to be a double-edged sword, where complexity and implications from misinterpretations have paradoxically resulted in data becoming more siloed. As a result, the potential for development of health specific AI and clinical decision support tools built on real-world data have yet to be fully realized. 

In this perspective, we propose federated networks as a solution to enable access to diverse data sets and tackle known and emerging health problems. The perspective draws on experience from the World Economic Forum Breaking Barriers to Health Data project, the Personal Health Train and Vantage6 infrastructures, and industry insights. 

We first define the concept of federated networks in a healthcare context, present the value they can bring to multiple stakeholders, and discuss their establishment, operation and implementation. Challenges of federated networks in healthcare are highlighted, as well as the resulting need for and value of an independent orchestrator for their safe, sustainable and scalable implementation.