Tech 100: ‘We’re getting into real statistics of real world problems’
David Eccles and Ian Allaway, co-founders of Edinburgh start-up Wallscope, on getting to the bottom of big data in healthcare
David Eccles and Ian Allaway of Wallscope present to members of the Scottish Government's Digital Directorate - Image credit: CivTech
It has been said for a long time that the NHS is data rich yet information poor. “What we want to do is offset that by saying, ‘Data rich is a fantastic thing because you then become information rich and you can convert that into usable knowledge’,” says David Eccles, co-founder and product director of Edinburgh-based start-up Wallscope.
A four-strong team, the company was one of eight chosen to be part of the CivTech pilot, a programme run by the Scottish Government to tackle societal challenges with technology. Their challenge, put forward by the Information Services Division (ISD) within NHS National Services Scotland, is to devise a way to make data applications more accessible and appealing.
“What they do now is publish CSV files en masse singularly and then some data scientists will have to go through all of them,” explains fellow co-founder and project director, Ian Allaway. “What we can do with software API in the background is create a meta-layer and link all of them together, if that’s useful.
“For instance, workforce data, prescription data, the BNF codes [used for each drug], the GP practices – we can link them all together and very quickly present them as charts, maps or whichever visualisation layer is most appropriate. It would be an incredible time-saving tool for anybody in any sector because you don’t have to drill through millions of lines of CSV to get any kind of result.”
In short, their platform aims to find the needle in the haystack. “The more data you have, it’s not always obvious the picture it is going to tell you,” adds Eccles. “But this is a very dynamic system so if you address the dashboard for, say, acute care then you don’t have to go in each month and spend the time doing that through Excel.
“In theory, if we can focus in on the right questions we want the data to visualise then it builds value on and on and on.”
As part of their pitch for inclusion in the 17-week CivTech accelerator phase, the team looked at prescription data – the spreadsheet for which ran to around 1.5 million lines for a single month – to scale the average price per capita for health boards across Scotland.
“We wanted to give them a picture from the data,” says Eccles. “Both Lanarkshire and Lothian have the same volume of population and yet the average cost in Lothian is a lot smaller – you might ask why is that.
“This is the point of data and particularly big data – it doesn’t necessarily give you the answer immediately but it raises questions that need to be investigated. So, for example, we can link the prescription data to people, areas and GP practices, and drill further and further down. At one level it might help with fraud detection, at another level it might inform improvement of services to patients.”
Wallscope’s next focus is on antibiotics after being asked by NHS clinical director Jason Leitch to shed some light on the area. Prescription data as well as that from GP practices and health boards will be pulled together to show where they are being overused, over-prescribed and, perhaps most importantly, where they no longer work.
“We’re getting into real statistics of real world problems,” says Allaway. The integration of health and social care is another area that could create an extra demand for this technology.
“The data can be pulled from across different organisations and departments – so if you layer social care data with the NHS data that could bring a whole new level of insights,” says communications manager Emma Findlow.
January 11 is down as demo day when the eight CivTech participants will have to present their product in the hope that contracts will follow. “It is brilliant to be involved in CivTech because it allows us to work with a real dataset where there is real potential for making improvements,” says Eccles.
“We were told years ago that our solution would be incredibly useful in health and care and we presented that to different organisations. But the idea of getting into the procurement chain, if you’re not a large business like some of the consulting services it’s almost daring somebody to deal with a small supplier.
“We can run around corners a lot faster than some of the bigger companies and we’re also aware we don’t need to be charging as much money as them.
“But procurement in the public sector, we wouldn’t have gone there previously because it would have killed our business. This doesn’t kill our business, this supports our business.”
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