Why business should learn from the NHS' mistakes

A lack of public awareness is one reason the Government has delayed the NHS programme by six months.

Unfortunately, some experts say the NHS appears to have put too much emphasis on technical safeguards understandable given the mixed track record of NHS IT and too little on explaining the work to the public.

"The program has great potential, and could change the way healthcare is provisioned for the better," says Steve Fortes, at consultants PrivacyTrust.

"The key issue is trust. Unfortunately, its implementation has been a textbook example of what not to do. At times it seemed like they [the NHS] spent their budget on getting the technology right, and trust was an afterthought." This is what the organisation now needs to fix.

And, as Hilary Thomas, a partner in the health and life sciences practice at KPMG points out, the NHS has, rightly, been cautious about disclosing data in the past. "It has always had a bias against disclosure, against information getting into the wrong hands," she says.

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But the tools available now for data analysis are so powerful and the volumes of data are potentially so great that there would be a huge, missed opportunity if the NHS were unable to make better use of it. At the same time, the system is unlikely to work, if 70m people have to provide active consent.

Healthcare has already seen some interesting examples of the use of anonymous data; Ms Thomas points to Google's flu maps as one example. But the NHS has provided to be a poor communicator of the benefits of its database.

And this is the lesson that private companies should learn too. It is one thing to collect data, but another to share it. We're only at the start of the "big data" journey, and businesses need to be open, and honest, with their customers, if they are to keep their trust.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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