Big Data Science: Opportunities and Challenges to Address Minority Health and Health Disparities in the 21st Century

Zhang, Xinzhi; Pérez-Stable, Eliseo J.; Bourne, Philip E.; Peprah, Emmanuel; Duru, O. Kenrik; Breen, Nancy; Berrigan, David; Wood, Fred; Jackson, James S.; Wong, David W. S.; Denny, Joshua
Ethnicity & Disease

Addressing minority health and health disparities has been a missing piece of the puzzle in Big Data science. This article focuses on three priority opportunities that Big Data science may offer to the reduction of health and health care disparities. One opportunity is to incorporate standardized information on demographic and social determinants in electronic health records in order to target ways to improve quality of care for the most disadvantaged popula­tions over time. A second opportunity is to enhance public health surveillance by linking geographical variables and social determinants of health for geographically defined populations to clinical data and health outcomes. Third and most impor­tantly, Big Data science may lead to a better understanding of the etiology of health disparities and understanding of minority health in order to guide intervention devel­opment. However, the promise of Big Data needs to be considered in light of significant challenges that threaten to widen health dis­parities. Care must be taken to incorporate diverse populations to realize the potential benefits. Specific recommendations include investing in data collection on small sample populations, building a diverse workforce pipeline for data science, actively seeking to reduce digital divides, developing novel ways to assure digital data privacy for small populations, and promoting widespread data sharing to benefit under-resourced minority-serving institutions and minority researchers. With deliberate efforts, Big Data presents a dramatic opportunity for re­ducing health disparities but without active engagement, it risks further widening them.Ethn.Dis;2017;27(2):95-106; doi:10.18865/ed.27.2.95.