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Project Health data and COVID-19 tech

Tackling health and social inequalities in data-driven systems

Research to examine the interaction between data-driven systems and health and social inequalities, in the wake of COVID-19

1 November 2020

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COVID-19 cases globally

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the wider governmental and societal response, have brought health inequalities into sharp focus.

Data-driven technologies and the systems within which they operate have  increasingly become a central part of the health infrastructure – a trend accelerated by the pandemic. Tools, such as symptom tracking and digital contact tracing apps, are being mobilised at pace and their use during the pandemic may well become the norm for the future.

However, little is known about the long-term impact of data-driven approaches. There is a risk that they are exacerbating health inequalities, but also there is great potential for them to shed light on, and address inequalities when designed well.

In a partnership with the Health Foundation, we are exploring how the accelerated adoption of data-driven technologies and systems during the pandemic, may have affected inequalities. Together we will generate an evidence base around the interaction between these technologies and health outcomes, building a shared understanding of the actions needed to reduce health inequalities and improve people’s health.

The research involved exploring the impacts with:

  • a desk-based review of the landscape
  • public engagement on the lived experience of people from different social demographics
  • a mixed-methods case study with a focus on specific datasets and providing in-depth analysis of data and outcomes.

Over the next eight months (from Jan 2022), the partnership will continue to gather evidence of the ways data-driven systems impact inequalities, and will begin to produce recommendations for how they can be designed and deployed in ways that mitigate negative impacts and promote their benefits.

The advisory group

Throughout the research, an advisory group of specialists in philosophy, global and public health, patient and public advocacy, as well as ethics and industry will help to provide guidance to the development of the project.