Plans to increase the availability of health service data under the Government’s open data initiative were included last week in Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement.
As part of the initiative, data sets including information on GP prescribing and a range of other health issues will be readily available to the public.
MD of MHP Health Mandate Mike Birtwistle said that mass release of NHS data sets would ‘change the nature of health comms’.
‘Whether you are campaigning for change or defending the performance of a service, the availability of this information could be a game-changer,’ he said.
‘Ready access to complete NHS data sets will make it easier to bring together the information to make an argument.’
Birtwistle also suggested that health communicators would ‘need to raise their game’ to capitalise on the initiative.
Fishburn Hedges’ head of healthcare Ayesha Bharmal agreed that the availability of health data could help communicators have ‘a more sophisticated conversation’ with patients and the public, but warned it would also present a challenge.
‘Releasing the data on its own isn’t enough,’ she said. ‘The challenge for healthcare communicators will be as honest interpreters, ensuring people understand what the numbers actually mean for them.
‘The vision for a new NHS with patient choice at its core simply won’t work without better-informed patients who understand the context of the choices they are being asked to make.'