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Digital Data Sources and Their Impact on People's Health: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews

Lan Li, , Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Patty Kostkova
Published: 5 May 2021

Abstract:Background: Digital data sources have become ubiquitous in modern culture in the era of digital technology but often tend to be under-researched because of restricted access to data sources due to fragmentation, privacy issues, or industry ownership, and the methodological complexity of demonstrating their measurable impact on human health. Even though new big data sources have shown unprecedented potential for disease diagnosis and outbreak detection, we need to investigate results in the existing literature to gain a comprehensive understanding of their impact on and benefits to human health.Objective: A systematic review of systematic reviews on identifying digital data sources and their impact area on people's health, including challenges, opportunities, and good practices.Methods: A multidatabase search was performed. Peer-reviewed papers published between January 2010 and November 2020 relevant to digital data sources on health were extracted, assessed, and reviewed.Results: The 64 reviews are covered by three domains, that is, universal health coverage (UHC), public health emergencies, and healthier populations, defined in WHO's General Programme of Work, 2019–2023, and the European Programme of Work, 2020–2025. In all three categories, social media platforms are the most popular digital data source, accounting for 47% (N = 8), 84% (N = 11), and 76% (N = 26) of studies, respectively. The second most utilized data source are electronic health records (EHRs) (N = 13), followed by websites (N = 7) and mass media (N = 5). In all three categories, the most studied impact of digital data sources is on prevention, management, and intervention of diseases (N = 40), and as a tool, there are also many studies (N = 10) on early warning systems for infectious diseases. However, they could also pose health hazards (N = 13), for instance, by exacerbating mental health issues and promoting smoking and drinking behavior among young people.Conclusions: The digital data sources presented are essential for collecting and mining information about human health. The key impact of social media, electronic health records, and websites is in the area of infectious diseases and early warning systems, and in the area of personal health, that is, on mental health and smoking and drinking prevention. However, further research is required to address privacy, trust, transparency, and interoperability to leverage the potential of data held in multiple datastores and systems. This study also identified the apparent gap in systematic reviews investigating the novel big data streams, Internet of Things (IoT) data streams, and sensor, mobile, and GPS data researched using artificial intelligence, complex network, and other computer science methods, as in this domain systematic reviews are not common.
Keywords: digital data source / Social Media / healthier population / Universal Health Coverage / Health emergency / Digital intervention

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