From Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement of £113m in funding for a Big Data research centre in Hartree in the 2014 autumn statement to the £42m investment in the Alan Turing Institute in the 2014 budget, this government has shown itself to be serious about making the most of the promise of big data.
These moves are encouraging, and will help provide the infrastructure that will make Britain a pioneer in big data. However, big data is the technology of today, not merely a technology of the future. Moreover, with the NHS under strain and the government looking for ways to trim the fat and streamline public services, a comprehensive NHS Big Data strategy can bring about a more efficient allocation of precious resources and also vastly improve patient outcomes.
NHS data has the potential to transform the UK into the leading exponent of data-driven healthcare. The plethora of data that it has been recording for decades is Britain’s greatest untapped resource, and now it is time to make the most of this opportunity.
The care.data initiative is one example of how data from across our hospitals and GP surgeries can be systematically joined up and mined to fuel the innovations that will improve services.
Speaking in January, Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director of patients and information, announced that care.data will relaunch this year. Tim outlined how the initiative will enable the health service to close “dangerous gaps” in patient care through the implementation of big data analytics.
GP databases are an extremely rich source of data that are regularly added to and updated, with patients visiting their GP much more often than a hospital. Linking this data to hospital data, as well as unstructured and previously uncollected information, will help to create a better NHS and vastly improve patient care by providing a 360-degree view of patient wellbeing and offering doctors unparalleled insights.
As the leaflet sent to households outlining care.data put it, better information simply means better care. However, the initial launch of care.data caused considerable rancor, in the main because the benefits of the scheme were not effectively communicated to the public.
Something that the NHS must do better this time round is properly explain the benefits of a data-driven healthcare system. The application of digital technology is key to helping the NHS the meet the challenges that it faces, but the benefits of a big data strategy must be communicated more effectively to a public that remains concerned about data privacy issues.
The potential benefits of data-driven healthcare are best demonstrated by the example of improvements in hospitals that have already implemented a big data strategy and are reaping the rewards. UCI Health at the University of California in Irvine proves that embracing big data can drastically improve the level of care provided.
Thanks to big data, UCI has been able to create predictive models that detect trends in order to intercept and avert infections before they become problematic and monitor patient recovery to ward against complications.
>See also: The NHS journey to digital
Crucially, doctors are able to act upon the flow of data as it happens in real time, rather than relying on historical information. Doctors are notified immediately when vital signs cross a key threshold, enabling efficient round-the-clock observation of large numbers of patients.
As a truly national health service, the data that the NHS has access to is an untapped goldmine of insights. Making the most of the data that our health service has access to can transform the efficacy of our healthcare system whilst simultaneously reducing costs, bringing about savings worth millions together with huge improvements in outcomes for patients.
Sourced from David Richards, WANdisco