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Data can save lives, but we must protect it

–  Author: Lydia Ragoonanan, director, LORCA 

We’re on the cusp of a digital health revolution that could see healthcare providers make better use of data to intervene earlier, provide more personalised treatment and, ultimately, reduce the cost of running our healthcare system.

But patients, who are already taking a more hands-on approach to managing their own health, rightfully expect highly personal data about their bodies to remain secure. This means that unlocking the opportunities hinges on having great cybersecurity solutions – plus a collaborative effort to navigate the logistical, administrative, ethical and technical hurdles in front of us.

 

The future of healthcare looks bright, but we’re not there yet

 

The NHS England Local Health and Care Record Exemplars are a welcome step in the right direction. The programme will support local areas in collecting, protecting and using people’s health records in an ethical, anonymised form. Just as the tech giants have signalled a movement towards common standards of data sharing between individuals and the health and care system in the US, these England-based exemplars will unlock sharing between health professionals.

Combined with advances in our understanding of the human genome and the meteoric rise in wearable tech, the health systems of the future are set to provide a more preventative and individualised approach than the current one-size-fits-most we have in the UK.

Consider, for example, how using data better could make a difference to the wellbeing of a Crohn’s disease patient. Crohn’s is a painful and unpredictable chronic condition that’s difficult to diagnose and every patient has a different journey. Management often relies on keeping detailed daily notes to help identify patterns in diet, lifestyle and treatment.

However, our current health system is not designed to support the intermittent and immediate care that people with Crohn’s might need. Professionals across the system don’t always have the information they need, when they need it. Patients aren’t being served well either: they’re not always able to get support when they need it (referrals can take months) and many are offered follow-up appointments they don’t actually require. Smarter, better and swifter data could literally transform lives.

 

Getting ready for healthcare’s data revolution

 

Data-led technology like the Oshi app (aimed at helping Crohn’s patients manage their condition) is already emerging rapidly. But it’s essential we put the right structures in place now to make sure the patient’s interests are always protected.

We need sophisticated mechanisms to manage consent between data that’s held by individuals, held in the system and shared between intermediaries. Equally, we need to make sure anyone working in a healthcare environment has the right skills and technologies to manage data security threats.

It will also take a massive cultural and technological shift for the UK’s healthcare providers to embrace the open sharing of data in the same way that startups have for some time now. Many UK healthcare providers find it hard enough to effectively share data within the system, let alone beyond it. So it’s no wonder that sharing data more openly is by far the top priority for 82% of NHS IT leaders.

 

Shaping tomorrow’s health products: LORCA’s role

 

Here at LORCA, our cohort is already supporting a number of solutions that can play a part in transforming the health sector. Earlier this month, Aves Netsec highlighted the fact that the NHS still relies on about 9,000 fax machines, but that even seemingly outdated tech like printers and fax machines pose a security threat. Meanwhile, ThinkCyber and Cybershield can help frontline health workers keep good cyber hygiene. Finally, B-Secur is set to play a role in preventative care, using cardiograms to both digitally authenticate access and turn heartbeat data into meaningful insights on fitness, stress and fatigue.

But while we’re very pleased to be supporting a number of promising innovations that lend themselves well to health, there’s also a role for more bespoke solutions. Over the next year, we’ll be engaging across the system to better understand the challenges faced by health providers, patients and developers. We’ll be using those insights to actively support cyber innovations that solve our most pressing health challenges and save lives – while respecting people’s most personal data.

Do get in touch to join the conversation and tell us what solutions you think are needed most.