Big data for biomedical education with a focus on the covid-19 era: An integrative review of the literature

Rola Khamisy-Farah, Peter Gilbey, Leonardo B. Furstenau, Michele Kremer Sott, Raymond Farah, Maurizio Viviani, Maurizio Bisogni, Jude Dzevela Kong, Rosagemma Ciliberti, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Medical education refers to education and training delivered to medical students in order to become a practitioner. In recent decades, medicine has been radically transformed by scientific and computational/digital advances—including the introduction of new information and communication technologies, the discovery of DNA, and the birth of genomics and post-genomics super-specialties (transcriptomics, proteomics, interactomics, and metabolomics/metabonomics, among others)—which contribute to the generation of an unprecedented amount of data, so-called ‘big data’. While these are well-studied in fields such as medical research and methodology, translational medicine, and clinical practice, they remain overlooked and understudied in the field of medical education. For this purpose, we carried out an integrative review of the literature. Twenty-nine studies were retrieved and synthesized in the present review. Included studies were published between 2012 and 2021. Eleven studies were performed in North America: specifically, nine were conducted in the USA and two studies in Canada. Six studies were carried out in Europe: two in France, two in Germany, one in Italy, and one in several European countries. One additional study was conducted in China. Eight papers were commentaries/theoretical or perspective articles, while five were designed as a case study. Five investigations exploited large databases and datasets, while five additional studies were surveys. Two papers employed visual data analytical/data mining tech-niques. Finally, other two papers were technical papers, describing the development of software, computational tools and/or learning environments/platforms, while two additional studies were literature reviews (one of which being systematic and bibliometric).The following nine sub-topics could be identified: (I) knowledge and awareness of big data among medical students; (II) difficul-ties and challenges in integrating and implementing big data teaching into the medical syllabus; (III) exploiting big data to review, improve and enhance medical school curriculum; (IV) exploiting big data to monitor the effectiveness of web-based learning environments among medical students; (V) exploiting big data to capture the determinants and signatures of successful academic performance and counteract/prevent drop-out; (VI) exploiting big data to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity; (VII) exploiting big data to enhance integrity and ethics, avoiding plagiarism and dupli-cation rate; (VIII) empowering medical students, improving and enhancing medical practice; and, (IX) exploiting big data in continuous medical education and learning. These sub-themes were sub-sequently grouped in the following four major themes/topics: namely, (I) big data and medical cur-ricula; (II) big data and medical academic performance; (III) big data and societal/bioethical issues in biomedical education; and (IV) big data and medical career. Despite the increasing importance of big data in biomedicine, current medical curricula and syllabuses appear inadequate to prepare future medical professionals and practitioners that can leverage on big data in their daily clinical prac-tice. Challenges in integrating, incorporating, and implementing big data teaching into medical school need to be overcome to facilitate the training of the next generation of medical professionals. Finally, in the present integrative review, state-of-art and future potential uses of big data in the field of biomedical discussion are envisaged, with a focus on the still ongoing “Coronavirus Disease 2019” (COVID-19) pandemic, which has been acting as a catalyst for innovation and digitalization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8989
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
StatePublished - 26 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Big data
  • COVID-19
  • Curriculum
  • Integrative review
  • Medical education


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