Ivan Robertson: Data can innovate healthcare strategies


A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on knowledge-based capital (data, software, processes, and so on),  Supporting investment in knowledge capital, investment and innovation, published in October 2013, shows that business investment in these assets is growing at an even faster rate than investment in physical capital.

In principle, the analysis of big data can reveal patterns that could lead to new research, treatments and an overall improvement in the quality of healthcare provision.

The potential is there, but will it be realised? Progress towards new public health insights is already visible, and projects such as UK Biobank are collecting huge amounts of data that will be mined to identify connections between lifestyle, diet and work habits.

Identifying frequent healthcare claims not only enables employers to cut costs, it also affords a greater understanding of what is affecting the physical and mental wellbeing outcomes of their workforce.

Data is an essential resource

What we can measure, we can manage, and so the availability of abundant data could become an essential resource for employers to tap into. The destination is exciting, but the journey is not hazard-free.

Issues regarding privacy and data protection are already receiving national media coverage, and a balance must be struck between the confidentiality and accuracy of self-report data if the findings are to be of any practical use.

Integrate employer and provider data

Actions based on data analysis will require careful examination; a correlation between shoe size and height does not mean that if you buy people bigger shoes, they will get taller. Data will also need to be readily transferable across platforms, so that information collected by employers can be integrated easily with data from providers.

Issues will undoubtedly arise, but I am equally sure that solutions will be created to meet them. We are entering an age where big data analytics is closer to the heart of social enterprise than ever before, and forward-thinking employers will continue to mine that information to innovate their healthcare strategies as long as they are able to. 

Ivan Robertson is director of Robertson Cooper