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17-07-2011 | Article

We have to live with data liberation

The increased availability and accessibility of information since the rise of the internet has had an enormous impact on the transmission of knowledge, as well as the ability to make transparent commercial transactions. Take, for example, the pricing of goods, where price comparison sites can easily locate the cheapest price for a specific item. This may be good for the consumer, but can make life very tough for a retailer.

Similarly, information and data that was previously stored on a shelf or in a local electronic database under restricted access can now be made freely available online to a global audience. Again, this has put the consumer or end user firmly in the driving seat. The modern trend is for a wide range of organisations and sources to publish data and statistics online, and the government is no exception.

In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that plans are in the pipeline to make GP data available in the public domain, as reported by the univadis GP News service (click here).

As quoted in the article, the British Medical Association GPs Committee chairperson pointed out that data should be interpreted within "the context of local demographics", and I would agree. However, this is not easy to achieve with the deluge of data associated with this kind of information release. It is easier for people to look at a summary, often published in the form of a league table, chart or a small amount of text. True, this does not always tell the full story, but that is something we have to live with.

Aside from the government's enthusiasm for releasing GP practice and prescribing data, the initiative conforms to modern public expectations and trends. So we, as a profession, are going to have to learn to accept having information that reflects on our performance floating around in the public domain.

It will also be up to us to help the public understand these data, and just as important, we ourselves will have to digest, understand and reflect on their implications. The world is changing and we have to change with it. If publishing information helps us to improve performance as well as fostering a sense of openness then I suspect it will help improve our relationships with our patients and our political leaders. After all, we have nothing to hide so there is no point in resisting this change.

Best wishes,

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief univadis

By Dr Harry Brown