Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks at the Reform think tank's The Future of Health conference, at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday December 2, 2014. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
The UK government must open up and highlight the power of more basic data sets to improve patient care in the NHS and save hundreds of millions of pounds a year, Nigel Shadbolt, chairman of the Open Data Institute (ODI) has urged.
The UK government topped the first league table for open data (paywall) produced by the ODI and the World Wide Web Foundation last year but Shadbolt has warned that ministers’ open data responsibilities have not yet been satisfied.
Basic data on prescription administration is now published on a monthly basis but Shadbolt said medical practitioners must be educated about the power of the data to change prescribing habits across the country.
Other data sets, such as trusts’ opening times, consultant lists and details of services, that are promised to make the NHS more accessible are not currently available in a form that is machine-readable.
“These basic sets of information about the processes, the people and places in the health system are all fragmented and fractured and many of them are not available as registers that you can go to,” Shadbolt said.
“Whenever you talk about health data people think you must be talking about personal data and patient data and there are issues, obviously, of absolutely protecting privacy there. But there’s lots of data in the health service that is not about personal patient data at all that would be hugely useful to just have available as machine-readable data for apps to use.”
The UK government has led the way in recent years in encouraging transparency and accountability within the NHS by opening league tables. The publication of league tables on MRSA was followed by a 76-79% drop in infections.
Shadbolt said: “Those hospitals that were worst in their league table don’t like to be there and there was a very rapid diffusion of understanding of best practice across them that you can quantify. It’s many millions of pounds being saved.”
The artificial intelligence and open data expert said the next big area for open data improvement in the NHS is around prescriptions.
Shadbolt pointed to the publication of data about the prescription of statins, which has helped identify savings worth hundreds of millions of pounds: “There is little doubt that this pattern is likely to exist across the whole of the prescribing space.”
He added: “You could actually imagine doing experiments in this space. If we leaflet these GPs and bring this to their attention, will their prescribing habits become more cost-effective?”
The size and complexity of the NHS is a stumbling block for open data, according to Shadbolt, but he said the people leading the charge understand that it requires a shift in culture.
“The NHS is huge and admirable in many ways but it means that affecting change through the system means you have to really think through how you do that and have some really strong mandates from the ministers in charge.”
George Freeman, health minister, said: “Improving the use of data across the health service is vital in helping patients to make informed choices about their health and care, and allowing professionals to improve services.”
This article was first published on The Guardian.