Health & Wealth - The Potential and Challenge of Healthcare Data

Data That Matters
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Healthcare is one of the crunchiest areas to apply ‘big data’ to, and frequently identified as the sector with the greatest potential for transformation. The UK government Life Sciences Strategy announced in late 2011 placed particular emphasis on the use of patient data for research, and the opportunity for innovation.

Using Nesta research on the biomedical sector, and on the emerging need for a knowledge commons, we will use the example of healthcare and patient data to illustrate some critical barriers that remain to achieving the potential of big data in many sectors, not just health. Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation, an independent charity that invests in research, networks and skills.

Few people still need convincing that data has potential to create massive value. But there are significant obstacles to overcome if we are to realise that value. It has to be about more than A/B testing and incremental improvements. How do we use data to innovate?

Alongside the challenge of innovation, we need to address how decision-makers make best use of the data in front of them. No-where is that challenge more stark than in patients making treatment decisions, with their doctor, based on data and evidence that is often inaccessible or poorly presented.

Nesta has this year commissioned research on the organisation of knowledge in the UK health system, and how digital platforms, open data and other innovations could make the knowledge more useful and accessible in real-time. We will be able to share our review of the health knowledge system as it currently stands, and our vision for how it should look in 20 years.

We think the barriers to innovation with data are:

• Privacy: what can and should we do? How do we know where the line is? How secure is it? What are the legal duties and what will people accept? How do you balance usefulness with privacy? What should we make public and what should stay private?

• Value: how can we demonstrate the potential of data to a sceptical audience (such as physicians)? how can we measure the benefits of using it?

• Action: what is effective in moving from data to useful information to taking action? What skills do we need to make effective decisions, and incorporate ideas of evidence and confidence?

• Fusion: how can we bring data from different sources together in one place? Which tools should we use to get a better view across multiple data sources? How can individuals use their data in the context of a more general pool of useful data?

Data has the ability to transform healthcare and medical research. By looking at these barriers one at a time, we can make sure that the data reaches its full potential.

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Louise Marston


I head the Innovation & Economic Growth team at Nesta, an independent charity with a mission to make the UK more innovative. I work on innovation in businesses using new technologies.

I joined NESTA in 2009 and have authored reports on a semiconductor design cluster and the need for collaboration in the biomedical industry. I also co-ordinate and host a series of events on emerging technologies called ‘Hot Topics’. Big Data is a theme of my work for 2012.

Photo of Laura Bunt

Laura Bunt


Laura joined NESTA in June 2009 as a policy advisor on public and social innovation.

Prior to this, Laura was a project coordinator and networks manager at the RSA, building and supporting the Fellowship as a network for civic innovation.

She has research experience working with the think tank Demos, developed a range of independent creative projects and has managed a busy London restaurant. Laura graduated from Oxford University in 2006 with a BA (Hons) in Classics.

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Picture of Louise Marston
Louise Marston
1/08/2012 19:00 BST

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