The commercial impact of the NHS Care.data legislation

Earlier this year the NHS revealed controversial plans to create a centralised database of medical records. Those behind the Care.data scheme are championing its potential to improve the detection and treatment of major diseases, but many have concerns that the database could be left vulnerable to hackers.

The Greater Good

This was followed by news that data purchases were made by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in 2012 for use in industry guides. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which is now in charge of NHS data, commented that while the selling on of that information was wrong, full postcodes and dates of birth were not supplied as part of the exchange.

This lack of transparency when dealing with public records of a very private nature partly explains why there is fresh uproar at the potential misuse of patient records. However, we shouldn’t rush to alarmist conclusions. Instead, as a company used to dealing with large scale data stores, we know there is strong potential to mine this data for the ‘greater good’.

Back in the late 1990s Iceland faced similar issues with the arrival of their deCode genetics project. Privately owned and managed deCode, which was set up to carry out pioneering work into genes and DNA, faced closure until the Icelandic parliament adopted a law making it legal for a private company to construct an electronic database of the country’s health records. But Iceland had far more than raw data to offer scientists, including a profound passion for recording its ancestry. In fact, deCode had compiled the family histories of nearly seventy-five per cent of Icelanders who had ever lived before the project had even begun!

As a country with much greater levels of inward and outward migration in comparison to Iceland, we sadly don’t have access to such detailed records. But as the UKs largest bulk-buyer of pharmaceuticals, the NHS is failing to understand how commercially significant this data could be to their existing medical suppliers. If mined and stored carefully they could make huge profits from the likes of GSK, which could then be funnelled back into the healthcare system.

For those in the insurance industry, the legal ban on acquiring this data shouldn’t be seen as lost potential. We’re told that access to certain medicals records will still be given, but I think time would be better spent ensuring that existing pools of data are properly updated and maintained. For example, in an industry built on its ability to accurately spread risk, I’m still amazed that the majority of firms continue to update their housing data records monthly rather than in real-time.

Most customers who stand to gain from having their personal credentials scrutinised by insurers are likely to offer up their data freely anyway. Storing and, more importantly, maintaining these records once obtained is where these companies can really see benefits in the accuracy of their insurance policies. For customers that are less transparent, access to an anonymous bank of records won’t change anything. Therefore, improving the quality of customer and prospect data insight is essential, not only from a customer and sales perspective, but also from a wider organisational point of view.