Public Trust Will Transform the NHS into a Big Data Leader

— Hugh Adams 

Health is a sensitive matter and, as such, we see tremendous caution (and rightly so) in terms of how the general public views sharing their health data. The concern for health data goes beyond moderating advertising preferences on social networks. The implications of negative news impacting employment, insurance and other measures are serious. People might not want to know certain things about their health.

However, there are potentially huge benefits to be gained from sharing data in terms of generating information to assess health and risk. In a world where health is becoming more complex, with factors such as age and obesity resulting in people living with multiple complex and chronic conditions, big data can be broken down to provide highly personalised diagnosis and treatment. 


Technology is wanted, but we’re wary

The newly announced NHS long-term plan places a heavy emphasis on up-river prevention and the role that technology will play in the ongoing success of the organisation. Aside from the more generic implementation that electronic health records or tele-consultation bring in terms of efficiency, the NHS’s wealth of data means the UK has the opportunity to be a world leader in health and data analytics – if it can convert the public trust.

Our latest Brands in Motion study revealed that people want companies to be held responsible for the appropriate use of their data and, if not, governments should step in to moderate and regulate them. The NHS is almost a counter point to this. How can it build sufficient public trust that will allow it to open up the data to innovative ideas? Opening the data is vital, as the resource-strapped NHS would benefit hugely from outside innovation. To take an example from another sector, when Transport for London opened its data to outside users we saw ideas, such as CityMapper, emerge which were far more effective at using the available data than TFL was able to.


Progress is on the way – WILL THE NHS respond in time?

We’re already seeing that people are starting to take a real interest in their data, and technology companies are responding. Microsoft has revived Health Vault and Apple is moving forward with HealthKit. Even in Germany, a data-cautious society, a large group of insurers, hospital chains and industry partners are cooperating on initiatives to investigate the impact of data on health (e.g. Vivy). The NHS is famously slow to respond, but to not do so will likely hamper the success of both the long-term plan and, potentially, the ability of the service to manage the heavy demands it is under.

The opportunity is there for disruption in the health industry. Success will be dependent on companies utilising the data to build public trust to prove they’re the right people to handle highly sensitive information.