In 1948, the written information held in an average patient’s records amounted to a few kilobytes of data.
Today, the convergence of genomics, biosensors, smartphone apps, electronic patient records and a modern digital infrastructure is creating an explosion in the data available to inform individual treatment and care. By 2024, the NHS expects to have sequenced the genomes of half a million people. That alone will amount to about 1.5 petabytes of data.
Wearable and mobile technologies have the potential to allow millions of members of the public to continuously provide personal health data. At the same time, artificial intelligence, modern data science and clinical decision support systems will transform our ability to process and put this information to work.
Our Data, Insights and Statistics directorate’s purpose is to help the NHS, social care and the research and life sciences communities to learn from every patient who is treated. By linking our collections, we can chart a patient’s journey through the health system. When the journeys of many patients are aggregated, we can gain valuable insights into what works well and what doesn’t. We can make better decisions, predict future events, learn from high-performing teams and understand the spread of disease.
Accurate, accessible and timely information allows individual members of the public to manage their health and conditions. It underpins democratic accountability and is essential to some of our country’s most innovative companies. It helps commissioners target limited resources so they have maximum impact and helps clinicians, social workers and researchers improve people’s lives.
For our data to achieve this impact, it must be both trusted and useable. We are accountable to the Office for Statistics Regulation for the independence, quality and value of the statistics we publish. They often intervene publicly on topics of importance and recently commended our approach to drawing together A&E data from the four nations of the United Kingdom. We put users’ needs at the heart of all our work and communicate in a wide variety of formats including in-depth annual reports, interactive monthly dashboards, easy-read summaries, press notices and social media graphics.
Our analytical hubs for primary care, mental health and social care provide users with dedicated information portals that bring together all our information about these vital topics and allow them to produce additional reports and analyses relevant to their particular needs.
We have significantly improved the ‘searchability’ of our publication website, providing much better access to a 20-year history of open data and statistical publications. We are one of the world’s largest producers of open health data.
And we are continuously improving the interactivity and accessibility of publications. Our analyses of medication safety, emergency care throughput and flu incidence after hospital stays, for example, all used modern business intelligence tools to bring complex data to life and allow customers to flexibly interrogate and visualise the information.
Natural language processing gives us an exciting opportunity to further democratise access to data. It allows users to pose questions in standard English and have a computer application take them through sometimes complex choices.
We have developed a chatbot with natural language processing capabilities to engage customers in a conversation to pinpoint the data and information they need and serve it to them.
A second tool will help customers interrogate structured data sources without requiring specialist analytical skills. Both applications were successfully trialled over the past year. They will be implemented across relevant products in 2019.