10 Ways We're Using Data to Fight Disease

Community-based Causes
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Hurley Medical Center who exposed Flint, Michigan's high lead levels in the water supply, testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Sometimes the data doesn't need to be "big" to have a major impact on fighting disease. A smaller, focused set of data can be eye-opening about the health of a community. The Flint, Michigan, water crisis is a perfect example.

An investigation by a civil engineer showed water samples from Flint homes contained high levels of lead; however, the evidence he unearthed was not enough to convince government leaders that the water was contaminated. After hearing about the engineer's study, a pediatrician in town decided to cull together her own data set.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha gathered information from hospital records and found extraordinarily high levels of lead in the blood of child patients. Rather than waiting to get her findings published in a medical journal, she held a press conference, and the city officials were forced to listen.

Lead poisoning can have long-term effects on a child's brain development and behavior, and in Flint, nearly 27,000 children were exposed to lead in the city's water [source: D'Angelo]. Without the data set that proved there was something wrong, thousands more children could have been harmed.