How can open data help improve healthcare?

On 30 June the ODI will host a business breakfast to discuss the use of open data in healthcare and its potential to bring about positive change in the sector.

Medical/Surgical Operative Photography *Doctors attending a patient - *CC BY 2.0, uploaded by *Phalinn Ooi

Open data is data that is made available by organisations, businesses and individuals for anyone to access, use and share. It is a key part of the new data infrastructure that is helping improve people's everyday lives, solve environmental problems and stimulate economic growth.

In recent years, pharmaceutical companies and regulators in particular have come under increasing pressure to allow greater access to information from clinical trials, although this has generally extended to sharing trial data with qualified researchers rather than full public availability. Opening data is different from data sharing. Open data is made freely accessible under an open license – not just distributed between stakeholders as part of an agreement.

Ahead of the event we take a look at 6 very different datasets related to healthcare that are currently published as open data.

1. Counts of MRSA infections in NHS hospitals

This dataset shows the number of MRSA infections in UK hospitals over a rolling 12-week period and is published weekly on data.gov.uk by Public Health England. The release of this dataset enables hospitals to be better compared and encourages hospitals to share best practices related to stopping the spread of the bacteria. Although we cannot attribute all of the improvement to the release of data, there has been an 85% decrease in patients infected with MRSA since the data on infection rates was published.

2. Locations of Ebola treatment centers and units

Published by the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, this dataset presents the best known collection of Ebola treatment centers and units in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Humanitarian Data Exchange uses the data in combination with other datasets to map, in detail, both the spread of the disease and centres to treat it; showing governments and NGOs where the disease is most prevalent, and where new hotspots may be developing.

3. Research data on the genetic stability of influenza vaccine viruses

This dataset represents the huge amount of data generated by a study to reveal and quantify mutations in influenza vaccines. It’s just one example of the growing number of health and medicine-related datasets that are published as open data by academics and academic organisations on the Harvard Dataverse Network. By making the data available in this way, anyone from around the world can use it to conduct new studies and advance the understanding of the genetic stability of vaccine viruses.

4. GP prescribing data

Released monthly by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, this dataset shows the medicines, dressings and appliances, and their costs, prescribed and dispensed by each GP practice in England. Prescribing Analytics, a joint venture of technologists and academics including ODI Startup Mastodon C, analysed the dataset to explore how much is spent on expensive ‘branded’ statins rather than generic ones. Its findings suggested that over £200m worth of savings could be made each year by prescribing generic drugs rather than their proprietary alternatives.

5. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey data

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey is an annual health survey of citizens in the US, run by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the largest survey of its kind in the world, and gathers data on a range of topics including citizen’s health-related behaviour and events, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive healthcare services. The dataset for the 2013 survey contains over 490,000 records and can be used by government, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and individuals alike to better understand the health of the US population.

6. Canadian Drug Product Database

Canada’s Drug Product Database has information on approximately 15,000 human, veterinary and disinfectant drug products approved for use by Health Canada. It contains both active and discontinued products, and can be used to understand characteristics including active ingredients, strength, pharmaceutical form and route of administration. Healthcare providers can use the data to provide authoritative drug information to clinicians, which can help them to make informed, safe and accurate decisions for patient care.

These datasets show the types of open data published in the healthcare sector and their different sources. The UK and US are leading the way in publishing open government data related to health, with 1533 and 3394 published datasets found on their government data portals respectively. Though there is a limited amount of open data currently made available by businesses, academia and individuals in the sector there are a number of interesting uses already emerging.

We are excited to understand how those at our business breakfast, and beyond, can use this open data to further catalyse innovation and change in healthcare.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts or experience to share about open data and healthcare? Pitch us a blog to share your views, or tweet us at @UKODI.