Big data

With big data arriving on the scene for health care, we can take a slightly smaller look at some of data on health service performance that is increasingly being made public in the UK.

What does it mean for me as a patient?

Well it means that there are now lots of websites where you can look up how your GP or hospital is doing and here are some patient experience examples:

Find your GP or hospital and look up their results – easy.

And there are even websites (this example is for hospital cancer care) that put together bits of information from lots of different sources (not just patient experience) and with one click you can get all sorts of information about your hospital like this one.

Or of course the NHS Choices website, which again brings lots of measures together.

What does it mean for me as a health care provider?

Well, apparently health providers do mind about how they perform, and performance manage their work to improve the scores that are publicly reported about themselves. Which I guess means that making all this data public is working (on health care providers at least: recent work from our group has shown that patients only really change GP practice if there is another one nearby).

And of course there is a handy online tool to help you choose which improvements to make.

What does it mean for me as a health services researcher?

Well, this huge data vomit, mostly onto the HSCIC website, has been quite fun.

You can download the friends and family data that has recently been published and see what the response rates were and which hospitals chose to do the survey by text message. You know, if you should want to.

You can data check the political debate on whether there are more or less staff now than under the previous government (the answer of course is yes, both sides are correct: yes, fewer nurses and yes, more clinical staff – all the data can be found here).

Actually all the public reporting of data makes me a bit nervous: crude data of uncertain reliability is being used to performance manage change at the organisational level and to encourage patients to make decisions about their care. For decisions as important (with personal or financial implications) as these I would probably gently suggest that some consideration of reliability or possibly case-mix be added into the equation. But then again I’m just a statistician who spends far too much time surfing government data websites than I should probably admit to.

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  • The Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR) is a thriving collaboration between the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. We aim to inform health policy and practice by conducting research and evaluation studies of organisation and delivery of healthcare, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency and patient experience.