How demanding patients using open data can transform the NHS
Last week I was lucky enough to chair an event with a fantastic panel at Nesta to debate ‘How can open data be used for innovation and better patient outcomes in primary care?’. Michael Macdonnell, Head of Strategy for NHS England was joined by co-authors of our report Which doctors take up promising ideas?: new insights from open data - Professor Richard Barker OBE, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation (CASMI) and Fran Bennett, Cofounder of big data specialists Mastodon C.
As my colleague (and co-author of the Which Doctors report) Kate Stokes and I have both written about on our website and in Ethos journal, we think that open data can help us to see how innovations are being adopted in health, and in public services more widely. We know that, while many NHS clinicians are recognised as world leaders in developing innovations, the NHS is too slow in diffusing them across the health system. But massive new open datasets mean that there’s a real opportunity to find out which doctors are adopting new ideas, when and where. Talking to doctors and using other methods such as social network analysis can then help us find out how the process of adoption happens and how we can support it.
Our research identified two big opportunities – the role of patients in driving forward innovation and the role of new bodies such as the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and Clinical Commissioning Groups(CCGs) in convening, encouraging and supporting doctors to take up new innovations.
So, what did our panel and audience think? Our panel stressed the importance of demanding and engaged citizens in transforming the NHS, and talked about how open data could help patients to see how innovative their doctor was and could also enable patients to be more active in their own healthcare. They also stressed the importance of linked data (and making it clear how different clinical practices were linked to outcomes) and of using non-health data to give us insight into health problems (like air quality data being linked to asthma data). Open data in health could also help doctors compare how innovative they are with their peers, driving up rates of early adoption of innovation.
In the discussion that followed the panel we collected some great case studies of innovation going on, for example in Tower Hamlets and in the Moorfields eye centre at St George’s hospital. We discussed top-down versus bottom-up innovation and Michael stressed that the role of NHS is to enable innovation more than to give it a centralised push. Aversion to failure was raised as one of the biggest barriers to innovation in the NHS – perhaps we need a health failure fest in the same way we had an education failure fest at Nesta? We also tried to see into future to think about what open data might we need 20 years from now and how we can start building those databases now. If you’d like more detail, we’ve put together a storify of the tweets from the event.
It gave us lots of ideas of what more research we could do in this space that we’ll be following up in the summer. If you have ideas about what research is most needed next, please do get in touch.