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Over recent years the digitalization, collection and storage of vast quantities of data, in combination with advances in data science, has opened up a new era of big data. In this review, we define big data, identify examples of critical care research using big data, discuss the limitations and ethical concerns of using these large datasets and finally consider scope for future research.Big data refers to datasets whose size, complexity and dynamic nature are beyond the scope of traditional data collection and analysis methods. The potential benefits to critical care are significant, with faster progress in improving health and better value for money. Although not replacing clinical trials, big data can improve their design and advance the field of precision medicine. However, there are limitations to analysing big data using observational methods. In addition, there are ethical concerns regarding maintaining confidentiality of patients who contribute to these datasets.Big data have the potential to improve medical care and reduce costs, both by individualizing medicine, and bringing together multiple sources of data about individual patients. As big data become increasingly mainstream, it will be important to maintain public confidence by safeguarding data security, governance and confidentiality.