What’s happening to make big data use a reality in health and social care?

data-stream-shutterstock_croppedBy Steven McGinty

At the beginning of the year, NHS Director Tim Kelsey described the adoption of new technologies in the NHS as a ‘moral obligation’. He argued that the gaps in knowledge are so wide and so dangerous that they were putting lives at stake.  It’s therefore no surprise that the UK Government, the NHS, and local governments have all been looking at ways to better understand the health and social care environment.

The effective use of ‘big data’ techniques is said to be key to this understanding. Big data has many definitions but industry analysts Gartner define it as:

“high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making”

However, if health and social care is to make better use of its data, it’s important that an effective infrastructure is in place. As a result, changes have been made to legislation and a number of initiatives introduced.

Why is it important to know about big data in health and social care?

The effective use of data in health and social care is a key policy aim of the current government (and will most likely continue under future governments).  The changes that have been made so far have had a significant impact on the policies and practices of health and social care organisations. The vast majority focus on information sharing, in particular how organisations share data and who they share data with.

What changes have been made to support big data?

Care.data

This was the most ambitious programme introduced by NHS England. It was developed by the Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and set out to link the medical records of GP practices with hospitals at a national level. It was expected that datasets from GPs’ records and hospital records would be linked using an identifier such as an NHS number or a person’s date of birth. However, due to concerns raised by the public, particularly in regards to privacy, the programme was delayed. The programme has now resumed but new safeguards have been introduced, such as the commissioning of an advisory board and the ‘opt out’ provision, where patients can opt out from having their data used for anything other than their direct care.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the Care Act 2014

The Acts have both introduced provisions that impact on data. For instance, the Health and Social Care Act enshrines in law the ability of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to collect and process confidential personal data. In addition, the Care Act clarifies the position of the Health and Social Care Act by ensuring that the HSCIC doesn’t distribute data unless it’s part of the provision of health and social care or the promotion of health.

Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

This initiative came from the ‘Improving Information Sharing and Management (IISaM) project’, a joint initiative between Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Leicestershire County Council and the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. The centre has been set up to help understand the barriers to information sharing and influence national policy. They hope to achieve these goals through the use of case studies, blogs, the development of toolkits, and any other forms of shared learning. The centre has already published some interesting case studies including the Hampshire Health Record (HHR) and Leicestershire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) approach to communicating how they deal with data.

These are just some of the steps that have been taken to make sure 2015 is the year of big data. However, if real progress is to be made it’s going to require more than top down leadership and headline grabbing statements. It’s going to require all health and social care organisations to take responsibility and work through their barriers to information sharing.


Further reading

Read our other recent blogs on health and social care:

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6 thoughts on “What’s happening to make big data use a reality in health and social care?

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