NHS in talks with US government about opening up patient data

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is in discussions with the US government about how best to open up its public data for re-use.

Computerworld UKspoke to the US’ deputy chief technology officer for government innovation, Chris Vein, at Salesforce’s Dreamforce event in San Francisco this week, where he said that the UK government is effectively aiming to ‘blow up’ the NHS as it is currently structured and rebuild it, and plans are set to include opening up datasets.

Vein revealed that the person in the UK heading up the discussions with the US government is Tim Kelsey, who recently left the Cabinet Office to become the national director for patients and information at the NHS Commissioning Board.

He said that examples of how datasets may be used include patients being able to download their own medical information, which would then enable them to take their own data to organisations or medical bodies of their choice.

Another example Vein cited was hospitals comparing death rates for certain surgeries, which he believed would create competition to improve services.

Speaking in a general session at Dreamforce Vein explained that the US government’s ambitious plans to open up data. It has already launched a data.gov platform, which contains government data at a federal level and is available for people and companies to re-use. However, it is also launching similar platforms at a city, county and state level.

“We are focusing a great deal on data and the release of data to create a common platform. We have started with cities.data.gov, which we soft launched a couple of weeks ago, with data from Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York,” said Vein.

“We can now show that data alongside federal data and amazing things are starting to happen as entrepreneurs are starting to mash those two datasets together and create new applications, platforms and businesses.”

He added: “We plan to launch counties.data.gov at the end of the month and states.data.gov will launch next month. The whole idea is to build a common platform, show data from cities, counties, states, federal government, international governments, standardise that data and then give people access to it for re-use.”

The UK government is currently investing in similar plans, where minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, recently launched a whitepaper that detailed the government’s drive to release data into the public domain for analysis and re-use. However, at the time of launch Maude said that ‘there is nothing easy about transparency’ and the ‘formative years of open government will be tricky’.

Nonetheless, the white paper detailed new government commitments to open data, which include publishing data on which organisations receive grant funding, releasing information on how EU funds are used in the UK, and detailing the results of international aid projects.

The government has also announced that it plans to undergo a complete overhaul of the data.gov.uk site to include better search facilities, simpler ways to access information, and better tools for developers, such as API access to the catalogue holdings.

Across UK government more than 9,000 datasets have been made available via data.gov.uk and the Cabinet Office plans to launch a £10 million Open Data Institute, headed up by inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, to help businesses maximise the commercial value of open data.

The ODI recently namedGavin Starks, founder of environmental data website AMEE, as its new CEO.

It also appointed Jeni Tennison, who is currently serving as the technical architect of legislation.gov.uk for The Stationary Office and The National Archives, as technical director.

Computerworld UKasked Vein what advice he would give to the UK government to overcome any pain points in getting public sector data out into the open. He said: “My natural inclination is to do big things, but start small, talk to your customer and build iteratively. Always start small.”

Vein also unveiled details of a new project being carried out in the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Boston around predictive intelligence and analytics, an area he described as “the future” of open data in government.

“[These cities] have people looking at all of the datasets, mashing them together and then comparing them as ways to predict where crime will take place, where transport challenges will occur and where, for example, the next fire might happen,” he said.

“Chicago is actually redoing their budgeting process so that they can put police officers on the beats where they will most likely be needed.”

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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