Nordic Data Cohesion

- Health Data and the Shift from Sick Care to Preventive Health

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A more cohesive approach to health data will enable earlier detection of disease and other health conditions, shifting the emphasis from sick care to prevention.

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Head of Membership Service & Senior Advisor

Posted Dec 18, 2019 in Health

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the autonomous regions within the Nordics, all have the potential to harvest untapped value through health-related data. Such data could provide competitive advantages for the regional health and life science industry, leading to innovation of healthcare systems and services in addition to access to improved information. Access to a broad array of data will make it possible to act on early detection of disease and other health conditions, shifting the emphasis from sick care to prevention. By leveraging the strengths of universal equal access to healthcare and a reliable public data infrastructure, we can begin to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues in healthcare today. 


Health-related data is already collected at great volume and frequency today. Analysis and use of health-related data have improved and increased exponentially in recent years, resulting in a profound transformation affecting the capabilities of professionals, researchers, and everyday people. The shift affects the entire data spectrum, spanning people’s private lives and activities, social studies, the humanities, sport, economics, climate science, and genomics. However, the collection of data in healthcare has probably outpaced most sectors and, accordingly, our ability to translate and interpret that health data into knowledge and actionable information. 

Technological evolution has introduced us to new terms and concepts that now are interwoven with our everyday lives. These include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. However, while our technical capabilities and vocabularies have developed, there remain significant gaps, ideological challenges, and differences of interpretation regarding data-driven approaches to personal and population health. Correlation of biological, behavioural, environmental, and public data can lead to more effective and sustainable delivery of healthcare. But this necessitates a common framework that serves the needs of all stakeholders, facilitating access and meaningful use of data. 


For effective use of healthcare data, scalability matters. This requires cross-border collaboration on larger datasets. Hence, the emergent interest in cumulative population data from across the Nordics. The health-related data held in the Nordic biobanks, genome centres, registries, statistics agencies, hospitals, and public records have been collected over a lengthy period. It is a significant resource, including almost 100% population coverage, with unique individual identifiers that have been recorded over a 50-year period, and rich data for 70 million people, both living and deceased. 

The ability to combine expertise and data across borders will help improve research, the study of disease, the analysis of outcomes, and the early detection of population trends, especially when compared to the current use of disparate datasets with small sample sizes. On a personal level, analysis and use of this data also has the potential to enable well-informed individuals to take control over their own health, responding to early warnings and designing personalised healthcare plans.


A common ground for Nordic data cohesion can represent a way that is true to Nordic values and the shared ideology for Nordic wellbeing. It can serve as an alternative to the comprehensive approaches of major economies like the US and in China, which feature commercial and state-controlled data ideologies, respectively. Such a ‘Nordic Way’ could be a guiding light for others to follow.

There is an urgent need to promote a shared data agenda that moves beyond party politics and short election cycles. The aim would be to inspire the needed innovation in social contracts and business models by putting health-related data at the centre of a paradigm shift from sick care to preventive health. Ultimately such an agenda could provide the foundation for a Nordic Way and enable both individuals and professionals to experience meaningful use of health-related data in real time.

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