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Using data to improve health, care and services through research

8 June 2017

Health organisations, local authorities and researchers in the Bristol region are teaming up to explore how data could be used to improve health, care and services.

Bristol Health Partners, which represents the city’s major health institutions, is working with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute at the University of Bristol, to map the local health and social care information that could be available for research and service planning.

How can data improve health, care and services?

Information collected by health, social care and academic organisations can be used by researchers and service planners to:

  • understand more about disease risks and causes
  • improve diagnosis
  • develop new treatments and prevent disease
  • plan health and care services
  • improve patient safety
  • evaluate government and NHS policy

See some examples of research projects that have done this.

However, researchers and service planners don’t have an easy way to understand what information they might be able to use in our region, and where it’s held.

What is this project doing?

This project will, for the first time, create an inventory of the databases in local organisations that could be used for research and service planning. For example, the team will describe databases from major research projects like the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, or systems used to store information about attendance at A&E.

The team will be collecting:

  • Database name
  • Organisation that holds the database
  • Time period the data has been collected over
  • Permissions required to use the data, including whether individual patients need to be contacted for their approval before it’s used
  • The type of data stored in the database, for example whether it includes data like NHS records or dates of birth

Researchers, service planners and members of the public will then be able to view this inventory to develop new ideas for research.

For example, a researcher might be interested in how air pollution affects children in Bristol. They might look at the inventory and find out that our local authorities hold information about traffic by postcode, that our hospitals record the postcodes and age of people that attend A&E regularly and that this information could be linked. From the inventory, they would know how to go about getting access to these databases for a research study. They could go on to produce a study which influences how Bristol designs its air pollution strategy.

At first, the team is working with organisations in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, with plans to extend this over time. It’s being overseen by a group of academics, information governance experts, public contributors and representatives of organisations that hold the data. Find out more about the Local Digital Health Research and Development Group.

What won’t this project do?

The inventory won’t include any identifiable information about individuals – no patient identifiable information is being collected as part of this project.

It will not change the rules about who can access the data stored by organisations in our region.

How can I find out more?

To find out more about the project, please get in touch with oliver.watson@bristol.ac.uk.

There is an explanation of the terms used and the potential of using patient data well on the Understanding Patient Data website.

Using data to improve health, care and services through research
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