Data is considered by many to be the “new oil”.

Prima facie, this is a fitting analogy.

After all, data is capable of generating vast amounts of capital through its sale. However, there is an important distinction to make.

Oil, a substance once thought only capable of fuelling lanterns, eventually went on to power engines, build infrastructure and dictate the fortune of nations. This was achieved through consumption of oil.

Data now has a similar power on the global stage. It can train deep-learning AI, understand consumer patterns and build digital healthcare systems. Although, unlike oil which is finite and can be consumed, data is infinite. So how can a seemingly infinite resource still have value? Through control of access.

Healthcare data may be abundant, but it is also confidential and thus difficult to obtain.

Those who can purchase and access confidential data can build and sell AI software to, for example, detect cancer via medical imaging. The NHS, with its massive patient database, is in a prime position to capitalise on this.

However, we must now ask ourselves – who is to benefit?

Through our interactions with healthcare, we ourselves create it. We ourselves should be at the front of the line to benefit.

A fair outcome might be to make sure that any revenue generated through the sale of patient data is ring-fenced for patient care. More clinical research, more nurses and more capital investment in hospitals.

Healthcare data would not exist without patients – the question is, will it continue to exist for their benefit?

The consumption of fossil fuels led to the climate crisis which has and will continue to adversely impact people across the globe. As we look to our data-driven future, we need to secure a pathway for the “new oil” that does precisely the opposite.

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