Horse data on a global scale a potential force for good – study

Collecting horse data internationally requires not only an interconnected and harmonized system, but a global will to do so.

Data from the entire global horse population could be used for the benefit of animal health and longevity, according to researchers.

Their vision, described in the journal Animals, centers on a global, interconnected and harmonized digital representation of the equine population.

They proposed that a more social-based system, involving the connection between veterinarians and horse owners, was more likely to be sustainable than one seeking to commercially exploit the data.

Researchers Tomas Rudolf Sterkenburgh, Javier Villalba-Diez and Joaquín Ordieres-Meré said that technological and social progress are often closely linked.

There is, they said, a consensus that future medicine will benefit from a comprehensive analysis of harmonized, interconnected, and interoperable health data.

A thorough assessment of health-related data has the potential for significant advancements in equine health, similar to what is apparent in human medicine, they said.

“This includes new insights for research and medical practice, more precise diagnostics, improved diagnoses, enhanced treatment decisions, improved patient care resulting in individual benefits for the patient, helping to combat diseases more effectively, developing tailored treatments, deeper understanding of illnesses, and early warnings about epidemic outbreaks.

“Additionally, it can lead to reductions in healthcare spending by tapping into the underutilized potential of data.”

The form in which such health data will be available is crucial. For a comprehensive analysis, it is necessary to harmonize and link the data, enabling seamless use across system boundaries.

The trio looked at how the “treasure trove” of data from veterinary diagnostics is gathered and the role of the Internet of Medical Things.

The Internet of Medical Things describes the network of internet-connected medical devices, hardware infrastructure, and software applications used to connect healthcare information technology.

“To foster the usage of collected data in this way, not only do technical aspects need to be addressed but so do organizational ones.”

They applied a socio-technical system approach developed in the business world to the field of equine health data.

The authors, who interviewed veterinarians and horse owners for their paper, said the availability of health-related data in veterinary medicine for horses is on the rise due to technological advancements, mirroring trends in human medicine.

The internet, cloud services, and interconnected systems are driving improvements in health monitoring and care.

The authors traversed the social system of veterinarians and owners and examined barriers and enablers in establishing an effective digital representation of the global equine population.

“Using the socio-technical approach, we were able to propose a standardized framework enabling a sustainable, transparent, federated, and coordinated method of taking benefits from the digital equine datasets and to identify barriers and enablers on the way to achieving the vision.”

The researchers said a sustainable approach to the development of the system, involving the social system of horse owners and veterinarians, seemed to be more sustainable — and in the long run more successful in terms of animal welfare and longevity — than commercial exploitation of the data.

“However, building political will, self-organization, and the financing of this approach is a major challenge.”

Their proposed framework helps to provide a context for data exchange within a consistent relational structure that ensures good governance principles and supports the convenience of data sharing.

“In this way, all of the participants have a clear view of the benefits and challenges the other participants have in relation to data.” Hence, they can better understand the value of their contribution within the model.

“Thus, the framework can help the standardization of relations and data flows, ultimately increasing the value created by integrated data analyses. It also simplifies the complexity of the overall system by focusing on pairs of two selected actors — the owner and veterinarian.”

If a commercial framework was applied, then questions arise as to how to incentivize horse owner and veterinarian participation.

Key elements in developing a successful framework centered around trust, empowerment and organizational alignment.

Within the whole ecosystem, the researchers identified about 20 actors and actor groups.

“Family veterinarians, veterinary experts, owners, breeders, health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the Internet of Medical things, providers, data analysts, clinics and hospitals, providers of practice software, the feed industry, associations, interest groups, parties, and many more make up a complex network with various value streams, money streams, knowledge and information streams, risk streams, and service streams worthy of investigation.

“An analysis of these aspects exceeds the scope of this paper by far. However, we see this analysis as a possible step beyond the research presented here toward greater practical relevance and more actionable results.”

A formal and larger interview-based study with an extended group of stakeholders would allow for additional, statistical analysis and increased relevance.

“The limitation to horses seems arbitrary but is justified by the value and importance of this animal,” they said.

“A broader examination of livestock might have brought additional aspects to light but would have also greatly increased the complexity of the study.

“Therefore, further research is needed to verify the usefulness of the socio-technical matrix framework when extended to other contexts.”

The researchers said their study was essentially based on the situation in Europe, which meant that a more global perspective could be beneficial if other scenarios could provide additional insights that can increase the robustness of the framework.

Sterkenburgh, an independent consultant in veterinary medicine, and Ordieres-Meré are both with the Polytechnic University of Madrid in Spain; while Villalba-Diez is with Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

Sterkenburgh, T.R.; Villalba-Diez, J.; Ordieres-Meré, J. Socio-Technical Analysis of the Benefits and Barriers to Using a Digital Representation of the Global Horse Population in Equine Veterinary Medicine. Animals 2023, 13, 3557.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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