There is an abundance of healthcare data out there and many have debated about  how this data could be used to improve the health of the nation. So much so that a debate was planned in the House of Lords to discuss this further. A recent briefing describes what healthcare data is, how it could be potentially used and the challenges in using this data.

Healthcare data in England.

Guided and delivered by a range of organisations, the ability to use healthcare data is unclear but with the NHS alone holding millions of electronic medical records on the health of the population from birth to death, perhaps it is time to ask whether we could do more with this data. This question extends to use of non-health datasets too which could be linked into healthcare data to get a full picture. For example, school attainment figures linked into healthcare to identify any correlation between education and healthcare.

Technically, there are three types of usage when it comes to healthcare data:

  • Primary use within the NHS: usage by medical professionals to make decisions about care.
  • Secondary use within the NHS: to inform, for example, “commissioning, clinical audit, treatment outcome monitoring, calculation of treatment costs and payment to practices”.
  • Secondary use outside the NHS: data may be used for “local or national public health activities; academic research; and data use by commercial organisations”. Commercial organisations might use data for monitoring drug safety and efficacy, and for developing new treatments. (source: House of Lords Library)

The potential benefits of utilising healthcare data.

The data that has been gathered so far, and that continues to be collated is described as potentially being ‘of immense value to artificial intelligence researchers’ and also for improving healthcare outcomes in the UK via genomics (the studies of genomes and the sequencing of DNA). 

One of the key uses for healthcare data has been highlighted as identifying conditions in patients at early stages and the ability to potentially do it quicker and more efficiently than without AI. Early diagnosis can then improve treatments and ultimately, the quality of care if the time of staff can be spent on curing the condition instead of identifying it.

The challenges in using healthcare data.

However, despite the many benefits available, there would be challenges to consider. The level of access to data would need to be closely governed if public trust is to be maintained. Data protection and privacy has always been a concern and lack of understanding on how the data can be used can foster fear. 

Another challenge may be the ability of healthcare systems to work together and to combine the data sets to come up with meaningful analysis. Whilst one dataset can provide good insights, it could be argued that to make a true judgement, you need to cross reference data sets to get a complete story.

There will always be the concern around data quality too. If we are to make correct judgements based on data, we need to ensure the data is accurate. This can be tricky if data input is susceptible to user error, incorrect coding and other issues that could render the data inaccurate. The output (in this case, the insights) can only be as good as the input (the data).

Data within your organisation.

Bringing the question of data and its usability back to your organisation, it’s fair to say that you need to appreciate just what you have access to. For example, do you know how your data can be used to aid recruitment? Click here to find out how. Of course, whether you choose to use your data or not, it is important to be on top of relevant legislation. Click here to read more about the data protection act.

The debate on big data and its uses continues.