Matt Hennessey: How we’ll use advanced data science in the creation of the GM Digital Platform

Matthew Hennessey, Chief Intelligence and Analytics Officer for the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, discusses the GM Digital Platform and how data science will be used safely for the benefit of our citizens and the healthcare system.

Electricity is pretty amazing when you think about it… it doesn’t matter where it was generated or even how it was generated – by nuclear or coal power plants, solar panels, wind or wave power – you can just plug in your TV, phone, kettle, lamp or appliance wherever you are and be confident that you are getting the same steady 240v power you need.

Those of us working on the GM Digital Platform are trying to achieve the same thing with data. Being able to safely use health and care data from hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes and join it all up into a single care record that you or your caregivers can access and update wherever and whenever you need to is one of our goals.

However, one of the problems that we face in trying to deliver this is how to manage the sheer amount of data out there. There are 2.8 million residents of Greater Manchester. The national prescribing database alone contains almost 1 billion records! We may be able to connect our data up together, but how can we ensure that we can find the information that we need quickly. Imagine if a doctor wants to locate information about the dosage of medicine that one single person has among all these billions of rows of data, or  find the blood test results of all the people who had recently tested positive for coronavirus in order to help develop a vaccine. Our databases are now so big that it can sometimes take hours for our search software to find and analyse the things we need. This is why the GM Digital Platform has been created with the latest analytical technology built-in – being able to search and analyse data from right across Greater Manchester in record time is something we hope to be doing later this year.

It’s really exciting to be part of the team who are building and deploying the analytics part of the GM Digital Platform. It will use special cloud-based computing technology that allows us to analyse data quicker than ever before and it comes with a built-in ‘turbo’ button for when we need to work on really big or complex data sets. Using this technology, we have now been able to cut down the analysis time from days and hours, to just a couple of seconds.

Of course, the way this is done will honour all the national personal data security requirements. We have built the platform to ensure our systems keep the data safe, always focusing on keeping patient data secure and working only with the data that the patient or the law says we can work with.

What makes the electricity story so great is that the end user can choose for themselves whatever device or appliance (such as a phone) they want to use and then choose how and when they use it. In my role, I want to see the same happen with analytics. If we put technical barriers in the way of connecting to the data, like forcing people to use a particular analytical software or tool, or making it impossible to connect what they really want to use, then we simply reduce the value of obtaining the data in the first place because it won’t get used at all. The digital platform will work with whatever analytical software or tool is needed to do the job

The new data analytics system that is part of the GM Digital Platform will help people to get the best value out of the data that we have. It can help patients and their healthcare workers instantly find the information that they need; produce dashboards with rich information for clinical use which will help each service fully understand the care they provide and how they can improve; and by using advanced research and data science techniques we can begin to better predict a person’s health journey – from when they might begin to need more support, to what treatment will work best and the quickest way to get that support to them.

Matthew Hennessey will be speaking at the Public Health Research and Science Conference 2020 on March 31st 2020 at Manchester University (5-6pm – Reproducibility in Science and Analysis).

The purpose of this conference is to support high quality and innovative science through the sharing of good practice and to help strengthen scientific activity. The focus will be on the application of scientific methods to protect and improve health, including the work of the NIHR Health Protection Research Units, NIHR School for Public Health Research and other formal research partnerships.

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