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NHS urged to extend data pool



Speaker from West Midlands Academic Health Science Network says healthcare organisations should follow police in harnessing big data

Healthcare organisations need to follow the lead of police forces in using more data from other sectors in their planning, according to a figure active in the field.

Neil Mortimer, business manager of the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, said the NHS does not have a monopoly on health data and needs to make more moves into the field of big data.

Speaking at the Digital Healthcare Revolution event in London, organised by Open Forum Events, Mortimer highlighted the importance of data that is relevant to public health yet seldom used by the health service. It includes data on employment benefits, housing, public transport, fear of crime and access to digital services.

“The police are years ahead of us in using data to plan ahead and establish trends and relationships,” he said. “They don't just use their own data, but pull on sources such as planning and transport.”

He said this enables them to identify issues that are important to policing a community, and cited the example of how the demolition of tower blocks can reduce the number of crack dens in an area.

“Mapping and triangulating the data can help you understand what the future demands on a service will be,” he said. “It can help you to create a lot of 'What if?' scenarios and to design more accessible and relevant services.”

Heat map potential

As an example, Mortimer pointed to the potential of heat maps to show how factors such as the volume of benefits applications or domestic violence in an area can relate to A&E admissions.

“The promise of big data is a potential we have not really tapped and we need to do more,” he said.

The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network is one of 15 working under NHS England on aligning education, clinical research, informatics, innovation, training and education and healthcare delivery. They have been tasked with supporting knowledge exchange networks and bringing together different parts of the health ecosystem to improve outcomes.

Mortimer said the NHS Five Year Forward View is having a strong influence on their work, but they can target a lot of local issues.

Image from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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