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Better Communication is Key to Ensuring Patients Realize the Benefits of Big Data


GE Healthcare's Andy Ward in discussion with panelists at Clinica's Big Data Round Table

“In the absence of a master plan on big data – we at least need a master vision,” summarised Andy Ward, of Performance Solutions, the consultancy arm of GE Healthcare, a panelist at a round-table discussion of UK healthcare experts, hosted by leading medtech publication, Clinica, and facilitated by GE Healthcare.

That vision should begin with better communication among the stakeholders, and in particular with patients, agreed the panel.

Jeremy Taylor, CEO of patient organization National Voices, questioned the very term ‘big data.’ “It sounds like Big Pharma, or Big Brother,” he said, adding that we couldn’t expect patients to warm to it.

Time should be spent articulating exactly how embracing ‘big data’ can benefit the healthcare system and benefit patients.

Matt Tee, COO of NHS Confederation, suggested that healthcare should adopt best practice from other industries, like retail.

UK supermarket chains including Tesco and Sainsbury’s offer loyalty cards that yield transactional big data, which they then use to create benefits for the consumer.

The aviation industry uses big data for predictive analytics, to tell engineers when fan-blades will be too worn for continued use.

The public understand how data is helping them in these instances: how can we apply similar thinking to healthcare? One suggestion from Andy Ward was the creation of inter-industry innovation forums.

Jeremy Taylor went on to suppose that, while healthcare is calling out for big data to help build efficiency and eliminate unwanted variation, the public may not be ready to accept their data being used.

However again using supermarket loyalty cards as an example, Matt Tee demonstrated how society is indeed willing to share their data if it understands how the information is being used.

The panel expected that once the value of big data is clarified to the public, some of the current anxiety that surrounds the sharing of personal data may begin to subside, and with that greater progress can be made with the application of big data.

The challenge isn’t only about communicating the benefits to patients though. Matt Tee said: “we are only at the edges of understanding the potential of technology and big data to tackle the underlying challenges of hospitals and social care.”

A lot of this data exists already, but are we using it as well as we could? Not according to Peter Singleton, Director of Cambridge Health Informatics, who said that a lot more intelligence needs to be harvested across the healthcare system, for use on the front line by clinicians and nurses, locally, regionally and nationally.

So what’s next for big data in healthcare? And whose responsibility is it to drive big data forward?

Andy Ward believes there needs to be a united approach between government, industry and healthcare professionals, suggesting that this is not a challenge that should be approached individually. “Perhaps it’s clinicians that you need to persuade first”, said Matt Tee, “and then the patients.”

To see the round-table in full, please click here.