Big data, simple analytics, big impact.

Don’t tell anyone yet, but we’ve got a big project going live soon which aims to help the NHS save an awful lot of money. It turns out that by altering GPs’ prescribing behaviour for a few drugs, swapping generic for proprietary forms where appropriate, it’s possible to save hundreds of millions of pounds a year – working with the doctors at Open Healthcare UK, we’ve clarified how prescriptions can and should safely be changed, done the detailed financial analysis, and created maps and rankings of exactly which GPs are spending what.

The full details will all be published in due course, but actually doing the project has reminded me of a few basic principles that come up again and again:

1. Good domain knowledge usually beats super-smart algorithms. Working with qualified doctors and using their understanding of the ins and outs of prescribing behaviour was massively more important to this project than the mathematical and analytical aspects.

2. The effort of getting data doesn’t necessarily correlate with its importance. This whole project was based on open data from the NHS Information Centre, free for anyone to download – acquisition was easy, it’s actually doing something with it that was the harder part.

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