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Small devices generate big data Posted on Oct 11 - 2017

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Australian scientists are using phone and social media information to build detailed pictures of infectious diseases, reports Angela Lush.

Until recently, if you’d looked into where our health data is collected by researchers across Australia, you would have encountered the usual suspects – hospitals, prescription records, aged-care facilities, and local GP clinics.

But the future of big data is set to look very different when it comes to our health, because the rise of increasingly sophisticated personal devices such as iPhones and Fitbits means scientists can access information across all aspects of our daily lives. And that will give us better insight than ever before into how and when we get sick.

At the forefront of this research is the Centre for Big Data Research in Health (CBDRH) at Australia’s University of New South Wales, which is using an array of personal devices to find new ways of diagnosing and treating disease.

 “Smartphones now come with incredibly sensitive accelerometers that can pick up the slightest tap or jiggle, so they are good devices to measure any type of body movement,” says Dr Timothy Churches, a data scientist at CBDRH and the Ingham Institute in Sydney.

 “We’re looking at using smartphones to characterise the gaits of patients after surgery, and using machine learning methods to try and detect changes that could indicate problems with hip or knee replacements.”

It’s not just smart devices that are tracking your health and behaviour – your activity on Instagram and Twitter can also be used by data scientists to better understand epidemics as they arise, from diseases such as influenza, Ebola, and dengue fever. View More

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