Big data in cardiology: IT platform to manage "flood of data"


In addition to patient counseling and clinical diagnostics, the lion’s share of a cardiologist’s work consists of collecting data to be able to better treat future cases based on the gathered information. Until now, this data was recorded in Excel spreadsheets or many other communication platforms. A software is designed to facilitate a cross-industry exchange.

Photo: Keyboard with heart symbol

Cardiologists capture during their working hours many important data, that are relevant for future cases; ©

The heart: it consists of a left and right chamber, two atria (upper chambers) and the aorta. It supports all other organs such as the liver and kidneys and makes up approximately 0.5 percent of your body weight. It is the most important organ in our body and is constantly being researched. Modern medicine is unthinkable without artificial heart valves and even a transplant of the muscular organ.

Unfortunately, people aren’t always born with healthy hearts or they are affected by heart diseases over the course of the lives. This is where cardiologists come in. They examine the organ’s function and make a diagnosis. To do this, they collect, archive and process vast amounts of data. This is also called mass data or “big data“. Yet not all data that is being collected is essential for attending physicians. So far, Germany has no national directory of symptoms, causes and treatment plans for physicians to procure important information on similar cases. How can cardiologists quickly and accurately determine which information is useful for the treatment of their patients?

Cooperation project "SMART"

To find a solution for the big data issue, experts from the Charité University Hospital, the Max Delbrück Center, and the German Heart Institute Berlin joined forces in the eHealth project "SMART". They are assisted by information scientists at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI). The project that is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Science and Research (Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung), develops an IT platform to "make important treatment data that is collected and distributed over different systems directly available in one system for attending physicians", explains D. Eng. Matthieu-P. Schapranow, Program Manager E-Health & Life Sciences at the HPI. To do this, mathematical models are used, among other things. In the case of heart failure for instance, where the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body, many causes and factors like stress or medication intake come together.  ”With the help of innovative real-time data analysis, we are supporting health professionals and researchers in identifying potential risk factors and making any necessary adjustments in treatment plans at an early stage." The system is currently still in the development stages but is already being used and tested by cardiologists in medical practices and hospitals within the scope of this project. "These days, our problem is not to generate ever increasing amounts of data, but rather to combine this data and make relevant connections as it pertains to the treatment", says Schapranow.

Photo: Physician sitting at a computer

Member of the project "SMART" create a cross-industry exchange platform for physicians. The communication of the different special fields should be strengthened; ©

Communication between different departments to be automated

The model is very transparent for patients because there is no change to the course of treatment. However, they benefit from increased patient monitoring. To the system, mainly upcoming surgeries are relevant.  Affected patients are asked beforehand whether they give permission for their data to be recorded in this system. The benefit of this is that the exchange between cardiologists and laboratories takes place much faster and in an automated fashion. “When a date for a heart valve surgery has been scheduled, for example, our system automatically notifies the group of people involved, for instance, the lab team, that they should expect a biopsy at that time, so they are able to schedule their laboratory processes accordingly.“ This is designed to ensure that no important data gets lost and can be digitally stored for decades.

Whether and when the Internet platform will also be used in hospitals or by general practitioners has currently not been determined yet.

Read more about the Hasso-Plattner-Institut at:
Photo: Lorraine Dindas

© B. Frommann

The article was written by Lorraine Dindas and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.