The National Institute for Health Research is charged with improving the health and wealth of the nation through clinical research. That’s no small task, and cutting edge Information Systems are key to achieving it. Not only do we need systems that reinforce the NIHR’s position as the most integrated health research system in the world, we also need to embrace concepts such as Big Data and Open Data – ideas capable of making “UK plc” the destination of choice for running commercial clinical research studies. But how do we make sure we make the right choices, and what does this mean on a day-to-day level, and how on earth do we secure all that data?

Innovation in information systems has been pushed hard at the health economy in recent times, with only some success. The average nurse on the ward is bored of being promised something new that will make life easier, so this time we have to deliver. Six and a half thousand NHS staff are involved in research activity, so the challenges include how to help these people to collaborate, how to avoid duplicating work, and how to ensure that conducting research at the point of care is as easy as it possibly can be whilst being secure and of a high quality.

Our role is to make the NHS accessible to researchers, but what is the first thing we need to do with Information Systems to do this? When we ask that question, we are told: simplify them, make them faster, make them bigger, make them more secure, make them portable. So are we innovators or prioritisers?

In the last five years, the number of participants involved in research in England has trebled, and the systems we deploy need to handle growth of data at such an exponential rate. However,data in itself is not enough. We also need to transform data into information, and then create the means to gather insight from that information. This is now a demand of the researcher, but also the research participant. Tell me what my involvement in research has achieved, is now a legitimate question that anyone conducting research needs to answer, and therefore we need to provide systems to facilitate it.

Does this lead us towards a massive corporate strategic infrastructure, one big solution for lots of needs and problems? Emphatically, no. What we need is the ability to provide interoperable systems, link legacy systems to new shiny systems, and utilise open data standards. We have tried to use that word “open” in a different way by opening up our data to information managers across the NHS, allowing them to create open queries that can be shared across the organisation, and providing to the catalyst for service improvement. So far it’s working!

…. but the next challenge is how to secure open data, what do we need to do with it and how open is it really… All questions we will start to answer over next six months.

Thanks for reading, if you want to know more get in touch or follow me @r1chardatron.