Open data

Open data is publicly released information, often from the government or other public bodies, which is made freely available to everyone to use or reuse in any way they like. While it can be read by individuals, for example in a spreadsheet, it should be made available also in a ‘machine-readable’ format wherever possible. Open data should not be confused with ‘data-sharing’ and holds limited risks in terms of confidentiality and patient data so long as appropriate safeguards are put into place as part of the data publication process.

The availability of open data can empower citizens and help care providers, patients and researchers make better decisions, spur new innovations and identify efficiencies.

By releasing health data and structuring it for usability and computability (all while protecting privacy) governments and healthcare organisations can use the power of open data to improve the quality of care, lower healthcare costs, and facilitate patient choice.

In line with our Mandate from Government, NHS England has a responsibility for developing organisational policies around the open data and transparency agendas. This allows us to shine a light on the variation and unacceptable practice and bring about a revolution in transparency and support patients and citizens to actively participate in the design and quality of their local health services.

We do this by working with stakeholders, offering advice and support in publishing and using open data, and also in working in more transparent ways. This might include, for example, publishing comparison data for areas of care such as GP practices, consultants and hospitals.

Benefits of open data

We believe that transparency is a key enabler in supporting people to participate in their own healthcare, empowering citizens and patients to take more control of their health and care when and where they want to.

Using open data in healthcare offers a number of potential benefits:

  • Accountability: The use of data to hold healthcare organisations and providers accountable for treatment outcomes.
  • Choice: Providing open data to help patients make informed choices from among the healthcare options available to them.
  • Efficiency: Improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of delivering healthcare.
  • Outcomes: Improving treatment outcomes by using open data to make the results of different treatments, healthcare organisations, and providers’ work more transparent.
  • Customer service: Using open data to educate patients and their families and make healthcare institutions more responsive.
  • Economic growth and innovation: Providing open data that can help fuel new healthcare companies and initiatives.

Action on open data

In January 2014, a memorandum of understanding was signed in which an agreement was made to share solutions around the use of health information and work on challenges of technology adoption together. The document, signed by the Department of Health and its American counterpart the US Department for Health and Human Services, NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre, set out the broad sweep of work the organisations would focus on together to improve quality of care and empower patients to manage their own health more effectively.   Examples include aligning some of the care quality indicators for conditions such as dementia and creating common classifications of open data to improve international analytics.

In a further concrete step forward, NHS England have launched a £30,000 challenge prize – the first of its kind – to innovators or organisations who can publish or present data on obesity in a new, exciting and useful way. The challenge, to promote innovation in open data, is being carried out in both England and the USA and will either help create an innovative tool by ‘mashing up’ existing data or will help publish data collected but not publicly available.