NHS Digital director to outline data plans

An AI avatar could help make NHS Digital data more accessible in the future, Professor Daniel Ray will tell the HIMSS UK Executive Leadership Summit today.

NHS Digital’s Director of Data will talk about moves to enhance the organisation’s ability to enable its customers to find and appropriately access the data they need.

The solution in the future could allow clinicians, researchers and commissioners to better navigate access to specific data to help them improve NHS services, in line with strict standards of governance.

Requests through NHS Digital for all types of data are increasing, with double the number of applications received in 2017 compared with 2016.

Just over 50% of Data Access Request Service (DARS) applications are for NHS purposes, with 25% for research or academic purposes, and 25% for other national health bodies.

At today’s summit, Prof Ray is expected to say: “We are making improvements in the ways our customers can access data. These are designed to simplify the process, speeding it up and increasing efficiency, whilst not losing any of the important checks and balances to keep information secure.

“One of the ways to make it easier to securely access data would be to use an avatar which customers could direct their enquiries to when they initially contact us.

“The avatar can be programmed to apply rules consistently and it would be available 24/7.”

Prof Ray will also outline plans to create a remote data access environment, which will enable people with appropriate clearance to access approved data.

Users would be able to log on to the secure virtual environment to see data they had been given permission to access after being approved.

Currently approved applicants must download the data into their own infrastructure and provide their own tools to analyse it, with NHS Digital having checked there are safeguards in place to ensure users store and handle the data safely and securely.

This new system will reduce the need for NHS Digital to send out record level data, resulting in less record level information flowing around the health and care system.

Prof Ray will say: “The remote data access environment will make the data available along with a range of tools.

“Our software can monitor everything the user does with the data in that environment, ensuring that it is used in the way the applicant committed.

“This development is one of the new ways we are looking to make our data available more easily but in a more secure way, which is especially important as the number of applications to access data increases, as we balance citizens’ rights while ensuring data can be made available for research.”

Prof Ray will also talk further about the potential use of AI in healthcare, including challenges in this area, as part of his presentation on data-driven improvements in healthcare.

He is expected to say: “AI presents an opportunity for the NHS as it has the potential to improve care.

“However, there are various challenges around AI, including around the way in which algorithms change over time – in contrast to other healthcare tools such as drugs.”

In today’s speech, Prof Ray will also outline the key components of the national data services platform, describe new clinical datasets which are being made available and will explain the innovative ways in which data is being used to improve healthcare.

The event, which focuses on driving digital healthcare transformation, is being held at the King’s Fund in London.

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