Why is it that health services the world over seem incapable of digitally recording and mining their millions of records? Peter Cochrane asks what's possible and why we're not getting it… Every medical system in every country on this planet seems to be in trouble for the same basic set, or sub-set, of reasons. Ageing populations, extended lifetimes, rising patient expectations, more chronic and long lasting illnesses, more people in need of long-term care, a lack of carers, limited medical staff, limited facilities, rising operating costs, increasing amounts of equipment available with shorter replacement times and higher overall costs, rising drug and medicinal costs, fixed and/or limited investment, uncontrolled migrant populations, increasing amounts of bureaucracy, litigation – I won't go on. But looking back at the history of healthcare we can see that the biggest gains have actually arisen from the simplest of revolutions. In engineering this is known as the 80/20 rule: you get 80 per cent of the result for only 20 per cent of the expenditure and it is that last 20 per cent of the result that will consume most of the time and the money. So what might be done? Where is the next big gain going to come from? For all nations the single biggest advances in the health of their populations occurred in the following manner: the provision of clean water supplies, sanitation and sewage treatment, followed by antibiotics. Everything else, before and since, palls into insignificance compared to these major advances. In my view the next really big advance is already sitting in files all over the planet waiting to be tapped. The data mining of patient records going back some 100 to 150 years probably holds the key to the next giant step forward for everyone
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.