Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NHS World Service

Making the UK government's ambitions for free data real requires simple demonstrations of what can be done to help citizens. Attending the launch event yesterday at Downing Street I was reminded of a proof of concept I did a year or so ago to free up the government's excellent, unbiased health advice online.

The web is awash with health care information but it can be hard to work out what to trust - did this piece of advice come from a drug company, was it influenced by a crazy politician or by an insurance company or religious group? The UK is very lucky to have the huge and expensive resource of NHS Direct online that does a good job of providing unbiased free health advice to all comers on the internet. But if you aren't from the UK you won't have heard of it. Even though there is a fair bit of non-English language content.

I mashed NHS Direct up with elements of the BBC World Service model to ask if developing countries would find the NHS Direct data set useful to repurpose in their own cultural context, rather then write their own, or worse still buy it from a big consultancy or drugs company with a world Bank grant. The idea got a good wind inside Whitehall but couldn't find a neat home to implement.

Gary Ashby of NHS Choices was at the Downing Street event too - he tells me that they are already working with Kenya to do something like this - so with his permission and to get a debate going, I publish the internal slides here. The slides are not a statement of policy, they are/were a discussion paper and are Crown Copyright, allowing you to reuse them freely.


  1. I think this is a fantastic idea. Well done!

  2. Great idea William! But may be its not just ‘information out’ systems that we can avoid duplicating. We’ve been working with social enterprise, not-for-profits in Barcelona and Milan to see if we can replicate Patient Opinion in these countries with out having to re-invent the ‘information in’ wheel. Turns out that the Patient Opinion system travels pretty well. Despite our misgivings that health services would be too heterogeneous for one system, the Spanish and Catalan systems should go live in early January and the Italian one later in 2010. Seems that basically most relatively advanced health systems are straightforward hierarchical taxonomies of services that can be modelled relatively easily within the Patient Opinion software.
    More interesting perhaps is that we have done this quickly and at very low cost by adapting open development environments, ‘open business’ legal agreements built around adapting existing technology pool agreements that share IP and risk appropriately. So with luck it should be just as possible to scale patient feedback systems internationally as it should be to scale NHS Direct/NHS Choices type content dispensing systems.


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