Making healthcare data open can offer various advantages, but several issues will need to be addressed if the benefits are to be realised
There are very few aspects of the NHS that do not lend themselves to a debate with strong views on multiple sides. But data is an area that perhaps provokes even more discussion than most.
Health organisations collect, of course, vast amounts of information. How much of that could and should be made available for work that goes beyond patient care is where discussions often begin – as anyone who’s heard the words ‘information governance’ well knows.
Across all sectors, there are now large numbers of proponents of the concept of ‘open data’. This is the idea of making datasets available freely to anyone with an interest in the topic to which they relate, and allowing manipulation and analysis of the information.
In healthcare, the argument is that by making data available in this way it should be possible to identify areas and means for improvement. NHS Digital has for some time now published a variety of information about performance across the service, and clinical audits in 30 different areas give a sense of the picture in individual specialty areas.
As NHSX – the new joint agency across NHS England, Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care which is leading on digital transformation – continues to bed in, discussions about what should be published and how will no doubt continue.
The work of organisations and groups such as the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery and EBMData Lab at the University of Oxford show the benefits of data openness. But is there more that could be done to realise the potential of open data in healthcare?
Many suggest the answer is an unequivocal yes, pointing to the challenge of data that is supposedly open actually being difficult to access and to the need to build public trust.
This article has been initiated and funded by AbbVie UK. HSJ has retained editorial control with AbbVie providing review for technical accuracy and compliance purposes only.
Job number: UK-ABBV-200091
Date of preparation: 6th April 2020