How better use of data improves health and wellbeing

I’ve written a number of times recently about the growing importance of data in healthcare, and both the policy implications of this, and the skills challenges it presents.

It can sometimes feel as though the use of data is somewhat abstract however, so a recent report from the Richmond Group of Charities is an invaluable contribution to the debate.  They represent 14 of the leading health and social care organizations in the voluntary sector, and the report features a number of personal case studies highlighting how data can be used to make a difference.

Each case study highlights a particular problem, how it was solved, and the role data played in the solution.  The report features examples from mental health to cancer care, asthma to strokes.

“Healthcare data is one of the NHS’s most precious resources. It allows individuals to be empowered in their own care, medical professionals to improve and tailor individual treatments and the system as a whole to learn and increase its understanding of what causes disease, how it can be prevented and how it should best be treated,” the report says.

Whilst the report shows the immense potential when data is used effectively, it reminds us that the examples they share tend to be outliers rather than the norm.  The right data either isn’t being collected, or isn’t being shared with the right people.

What needs to change

The report suggests that digital technology needs to be significantly improved across the NHS to allow for greater collection and sharing of data.  The correct governance procedures also need to be in place, and communicated widely amongst medical staff so that they feel confident in using data without worrying about privacy breeches.

There also needs to be an honest and responsible dialogue with the public to highlight both the benefits of better data usage in healthcare, and the measures taken to ensure their privacy is protected.

“This needs to include informing people of how their data is used and why, and what choices they have about how this happens. Crucially, we cannot demand people’s trust, we need to earn it. And the best way to do so is by demonstrating the good that comes from better data use,” the authors say.

Victor Hugo famously said that there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come, and the ability to collect, share and analyze data is at unprecedented levels, and healthcare can be transformed if we take up this challenge and ensure the full gambit of patient related data flows smoothly throughout the healthcare system.

As the report concludes, we need government and leaders from all sectors to work together to make the changes necessary to ensure this happens.

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