Big Data and the NHS

Big Data and the NHS

As a population, we now generate more data than ever before. The challenge for the NHS is to take this raw data and turn it into valuable information to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and ultimately improve the service offered to the general public to combat current negative publicity.

As funding for the NHS declines, the use of data can streamline operations, allowing available funding to be spent on critical frontline services such as doctors and nursing staff. CBR Government recently spoke with Bill McGloin, Chief Technologies – Information, at Computacenter, to discuss how the NHS could make better use of the data its patients create.


What are the different ways that data could make the NHS more effective and efficient?

This starts outside the NHS, with preventative measures giving the general public more of a say in their own wellbeing. With fitness, step and calorie trackers readily available to the public, the ability to easily interpret this data is key to developing a healthy lifestyle.

Correlation of multiple sources is key in most industries, but particularly relevant in medicine. The ability to source and analyse individual records, combined with local area trends, insurance records and genetic information makes it possible to move from preventive medicine to predictive medicine.

In turn, this would allow the NHS to look at previous trends in peak periods, combine with predictive analytics over likely infections or illnesses at specific times and subsequently use this information to ensure correct staffing levels, correct availability of beds, length of hospital stays and subsequently allow more efficient and effective identification and planning of resources required.


How could the NHS be doing more with data?

Data should be as open as possible. In the case of personal health records, privacy is an important consideration. Therefore, it is key to be able to anonymise data in order to unlock its value.

The ability to combine personal information with a wide range of similar data sets based on age, sex, geography, medical history and medicines would provide enormous insight to the population at large, and hence significant improvements in personal medical care.

Historically, medical information sits in siloes (i.e. doctors notes, hospital records etc), but the ability to bring these data sources together allows for the identification of significant trends that previously were not possible.

This requires a different skill set than you may traditionally associate with a healthcare environment, such as a medical, administrative or IT background. For example, employees conducting data analysis require the skills to identify patterns within previously unrelated data, turning this data into information which is used to benefit patients. As such, there is a clear requirement for the NHS to invest in new roles and training for their staff to meet these needs.

Computacenter currently works with several NHS trusts, and whilst the sharing of information is at an early stage, benefits are already being seen in the efficiency of hospitals.

The ability to store, access and update patient records electronically is cutting down on waiting times for patient results, enabling medical decisions to be made faster. This allows for notification and awareness of major infections and outbreaks to be treated before reaching epidemic proportions.


Do you have any examples of where the NHS has made good use of data and improved efficiency or reduced costs?

***Computacenter works with several NHS Trusts and Government departments, but privacy precludes Bill from naming specific examples, so the following has been anonymised****

One NHS trust analysed previous records to understand the length of stay for certain medical conditions. It then combined this data with the probability factor of certain illnesses happening at specific times of year to allow more efficient bed availability planning and operation scheduling, as opposed to previous ad-hoc planning.

A Government agency has accrued information from several trusts (those with the capability to collate the required data) and used this data to ensure adequate training in specific area, appropriate staffing levels and availability of vehicles.

Simple things like the collation of data over individual purchasing, and the centralisation of purchasing has resulted in significant NHS savings for medicines, drugs and medical supplies, even down to the purchasing of uniforms and other required clothing.

Several trusts are looking at the viability of virtual doctor appointments, where you engage with the doctor over Skype, or other suitable mediums, to reduce waiting times. This then combines with personalised medicines, where medicines are chosen to directly match lifestyles or genetic make-up.

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The trend of using big data in the medical field is certainly here to stay, and whilst concerns exist over the privacy of personal medical information, the potential for positive results far outweigh negative connotations. Data, and more importantly information, can be used to develop new treatments, improve medical and admin efficiency, improve administrative efficiency, and ultimately provide patients with a better and longer quality of life.