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Working with healthcare data is an exciting challenge

This week’s blog is from Dr Milan Wiedemann who completed his PhD (funded by Mental Health Research UK) at Oxford University in 2020. His thesis was titled: Processes of change in cognitive therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. In this blog he tells the story of his work following his PhD and how he combines software development with clinical problems.

After completing my PhD I left Oxford for a year and worked as a data scientist at the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust on very applied clinical questions. Although my time at the NHS was exciting, I started to miss working in academia and looked for something new that combined clinical research with data science. Here’s my journey from the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma to the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science.

During my PhD at the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma I tried to understand more about how cognitive therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder works. To look at this I analysed large datasets of patients receiving psychological treatments for PTSD. Some parts of working with large clinical datasets can be very laborious and it’s super easy to make mistakes that are hard to spot. I found it fun to automate the boring data work, some of which is typically done manually in spreadsheets, so I could spend more time thinking about the clinical problems I was interested in. Of course writing code took way more time than I initially thought but I still enjoyed it and it was definitely worthwhile. There was also a positive side note to writing code and making it publically available – other researchers helped me spot mistakes and used the code for their own studies.

After finishing my PhD I was keen to try something new and joined the Clinical Development Unit at the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust as a data scientist. As part of a mixed team together with public health experts, I developed tools that made it easier for everyone in the Trust to use clinical data for service evaluations. I was mainly involved in evaluating health inequalities and learning how we can improve clinical care by analysing patient experiences.

In my current role as a researcher and healthcare data scientist at the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, I support epidemiological research and NHS service analytics by contributing to the development of software tools that make it easy to understand and work with clinical data. I myself also use the data platforms and tools that we develop for academic research and collaborate with external researchers to help them with their own studies. For example, I recently explored the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on blood pressure monitoring and hypertension management in England.

Evaluating clinical treatments and service delivery as well as developing software for researchers and clinicians has given me a unique experience of the challenges and opportunities in healthcare research. I’m happy to have found a position that combines the fun and exciting parts of academia with software engineering and enjoy developing tools that bring evidence into practice.

Dr Milan Wiedemann

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