Using Open Data To Drive Innovation In Healthcare

Is it possible to use open data to assist healthcare, when it is so restricted in the industry?


The value of open data cannot be argued.

It has provided considerable bonuses to the world, from climate change data to city management schemes that are open to the public. However, one of the areas where open data could make the biggest difference is also the one that is least likely to allow it; healthcare.

The difficulty with healthcare data is that it not only holds significant potential to help cure and prevent disease, but it also has the potential to severely damage patient welfare.

For instance, if a health insurance company got hold of information on an individual it could see them have increased insurance premiums or even having coverage cut altogether. The difficulty is that the data can often identify somebody as individual inadvertently. For instance, it is predicted that a company can have a 98% accuracy in individualising somebody from just postcode and first name alone. Therefore, the most important information from patients often needs to be scrubbed before it can be shared.

However, there are ways that analytics is helping with medical innovations where this kind of sharing has not been possible. For instance Cipesa and Numec are two companies working in Northern Uganda to help rebuild a healthcare infrastructure that was destroyed during the LRA and government fighting of the past decade.

They are doing this by using data submitted through basic SMS, online or in pictures of developments happening throughout the country. They are hoping that this open data will then allow any corruption to be identified and stopped.

Equally, it has uses in established healthcare systems, like the US.

Here open data can show the availability of healthcare and humanitarian centres in a local area, meaning that by using ‘Purple Binder’ those who need to have access to this information, can do. It essentially allows healthcare to be democratised for those who need it the most at that point in time.

The benefits of using open data in healthcare are clear, and with the increasingly powerful platforms and technologies in use today, this kind of data will become even more useful as increased amounts can be effectively analysed.

At the moment open data within this space is limited and until a system can be created where individual health data can be 100% anonymised, the likelihood is that the impact it can have will be limited to infrastructural change rather than true health implications.


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