March 7, 2019

Forging the path to better healthcare through big data

It’s nearly impossible to research big health data impacts and disease surveillance without mentioning the work of Dr. Hude Quan, PhD.

As Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Classification, Terminology and Standards, within the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary, and leader in health service research methodology, Quan’s impact has reached global levels.

Quan, a professor at the Department of Community Sciences in the Cumming School of Medicine, brings his health research aptitude in big data to the development of international health standards and disease tracking, in part through his work with the WHO. His aim is to advance population and health services research to improve the quality of care and disease surveillance on a global scale. And his work with the Centre has done just that – playing a critical role in the development, testing and verification of the latest version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The ICD is the global standard for identifying health trends and statistics worldwide. It provides a common language in the world that allows health professionals better monitor, track, and analyze an outbreak - and intervene before it reaches epidemic proportions.

Quan’s focus is on healthcare data science, however, gathering data is only one part of his research. He is passionate about digging deeper into the numbers to find the purpose. Quan’s growing curiosity drives his focus as he consistently asks - what does the data really mean? His attention to the big picture leads his involvement in all aspects of the development of data science from the methodology stages, to how to standardize data and apply the information to practice.

His academic journey started in China where he trained in medical school and led epidemiology work within the WHO. His research interest was ignited after an unsuccessful attempt at building a health information system.

“We failed, even with a lot of money, we still failed. The data was not good enough to be used,” explains Quan. However, when Quan noticed value of the population based health data in Canada, he successfully overcame the weakness of the data, using it for his PhD.

Dr. Hude Quan

Dr. Hude Quan

Quan’s research impacts health systems at the national and international levels through disease tracking and surveillance. By examining disease prevalence and comparing patient data, Quan can answer the tough questions like how many new cases occur? How many patients get poor outcomes? By leading disease surveillance and examining the geographic prevalence, Quan can assess the impacts of disease outbreaks and determine occurrence of patient safety indicators.

Driven to build capacity in the realm of health data, Quan is focused on raising the next generation of researchers. With a passion for training and educating students, Quan takes great pride in watching them grow to become outstanding researchers in the field.  When asked about the next steps of his career, Quan responds: “I want to focus on helping more people. I want to raise the people up.”

Tidbits from Hude Quan:

What does better health and better healthcare mean to you? “High quality at lower cost with a focus on equity. However, investment is not only the solution for a better quality, big data plays a huge role in developing learning system from experience. Precision medicine will lead to better health and better care through the analysis of the effects of treatment and medicine on different patients which will determine effectiveness. This information would help lower the cost of health and increase the quality of health.“

Favourite place: “Banff is a fascinating place to go. No other place in the world like Calgary and Banff for access to great long trails.”

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? “Anywhere with mountains, I love to go hiking and downhill skiing.

Best advice you’ve ever received: “It’s all about the people.” “Make more friends.”

The biggest challenge facing the world: “Different opinions can cause a lot of challenges.”

Dr. Hude Quan, PhD, Professor at the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Classification, Terminology and Standards at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, Director of Centre for Health Infomatics, Cumming School of Medicine, Lead for Alberta Strategies for Patient Oriented Research SUPPORT Unit Methods Support & Development platform.

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