If ever there was an open goal for big data, healthcare should be it.
By gathering information from doctors, patients, drug companies, insurers, and charities, and putting the big data machinery to work on analysing it, we should be able to get better insights into a range of conditions and then come up with better ways to treat them.
The NHS, one of the largest public health organisations in the world, understands this well. In a few months’ time, it is due to begin extracting and sharing confidential data from NHS patients’ medical records with other healthcare bodies, as well as private companies, under the banner of “improving patient care”.
The scheme, called Care.data, will see patients’ data shared by their GPs with the HSCIC (Health and Social Care Information Centre). The HSCIC can then share those details, along with patients’ hospital records, with businesses, as long as those companies compensate them financially. Whether this constitutes ‘selling patients details’ is an ongoing semantic battle between Care.data’s supporters and opponents.