According to a new report by researchers at King’s College London that was part of a project for the London Ambulance Service (LAS), the UK government could be doing more to exploit big data opportunities to improve how ambulances respond to emergencies.
Published soon after the London Ambulance Service was upgraded to a ‘Good’ rating by the Care Quality Commission, the report suggests various ways for policymakers to promote the use of technology and data that would help to support it in meeting health system targets for ambulances and their response times.
A product of the Data Awareness for Sending Help (DASH) project, the report looks at ambulance dispatch in London and highlights how new and emerging forms of technology and data from outside the NHS could help save lives. The study emphasizes opportunities for sharing non-health information with LAS, such as data about real-time traffic conditions and air pollution. This data could help to improve ambulance efficiency through a better awareness of operating conditions and risks across the city, as well as helping achieve the service’s promise to become more innovative digitally.
In particular, King’s researchers suggest that there is an opportunity for London Mayor Sadiq Khan to direct Transport for London (TfL) to better support the service with traffic data and analysis. In recent years, TfL has developed some of the world’s leading intelligent transport system management capabilities, but more could be done to share these benefits with ambulances as they navigate heavy traffic.
The report also notes that cellular mobile network data is not made available to ambulance services, despite the potential to use it to respond more quickly to life-or-death situations. Cell phone location data is currently used extensively for commercial purposes. The researchers believe there is scope for the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to use regulatory powers to expand this in to the field of health, working with Ofcom and mobile network providers to explore this opportunity.
“The demands on us are huge, and technology is essential to the way we deliver a world-class service. This King’s research is particularly well-timed to contribute to discussions around the mayor’s Smart London agenda to develop modern services in the capital,” noted Ross Fullerton, chief information officer for LAS. “Expectations have changed; as public services we must innovate, working together and sharing data to deliver the best possible patient care.”
Professor Simon Parsons, vice dean for technology at King’s College and a co-investigator on the project, said, “This report demonstrates the urgent need for our leaders to pay closer attention to the ways in which new data and technology can better support vital public services. We hope this is the start of a much broader effort to encourage our excellent London Ambulance Service with supportive tech policy.”
Archie Drake, research associate at King’s and the report’s lead author, added, “There are various practical ways for system leaders and politicians to support London Ambulance Service with new technology. It’s no longer enough just to set targets. Another key factor for better performance is more attention and investment in what information staff have at hand to make good decisions.”