Big data vs real world technology

 System failure

It is now well understood that “Genomics” is inextricably linked with “Big Data”.  Designing high performance computing clusters, storage solutions for petabytes of data, bioinformatic training and research, are now considered a vital part of delivering genomic medicine.  Exciting times to be a computer geek – their work can now bring real benefit to real people with real health problems.

Given the extraordinary developments in the role technology can play in medicine, it is worth noting that technology outside of specialist areas still has a long way to catch up and may in fact introduce jarring roadblocks. Two examples recently encountered highlight this.

The first example is a UK based genetic service wanting to roll out training modules on genetic testing to oncology clinicians in their region.   This will support access to gene testing from within mainstream cancer services allowing, for example, many more people with breast and ovarian cancers to have BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene testing.

Solution 1 – put the modules on YouTube.  No – many NHS trusts block access to YouTube from their IT networks.

Solution 2 – put the modules on the NHS Trust’s own intranet sites. No – negotiating governance issues for digital content with each of the individual trusts is a task possibly more daunting than the one imposed on Sisyphus.

Solution 3 – create a separate website.  No – budgets won’t accommodate a web development contract.

Solution 4 – burn the modules onto CD’s and post them to clinicians.  Yes.  (REALLY!)

The next example relates to labs delivering genetic testing across the UK who are working towards and achieving accreditation to international standards.   Once achieved the labs are able to demonstrate their accreditation by including the logo of the government appointed national accreditation body, UKAS, on their test reports – a great way to exhibit the proficiency and quality of UK genetic laboratories.  But extraordinarily, adding a logo to a report is proving to be a task beyond the capabilities the IT systems in many laboratories.

There is, rightly in my opinion, much excitement about the future of Genomic Medicine and huge resources are being deployed to deliver the benefits it can bring. But there is also a real danger of forgetting the challenges faced by people working at the coalface of existing technological challenges which are not receiving the same degree of attention.