Hyperlocals can release the rich seam of data in local chemists

Hyperlocal websites and visualisation of data are made for each other.  A little imagination and a lot of hard work could see hyperlocals become the ideal platform to deliver information derived from data analysis back to the very communities from where it was first gathered.  At the same time monolithic organisations such as the NHS might be provided with the perfect outlet to engage with patients.    

In my part of east London there is no local press coverage to speak of.  Stories that engage and inform are obvious in their omission from those local papers that do still exist.  These papers will soon cease to exist – online or in print – as their owners concentrate on other areas of London where they can still make a profit.

At the same time in E1W there are three hyperlocal sites that provide valuable information for the 12,000 – 15,000 residents of Wapping – What’s in Wapping, Pootling Around and my own Love Wapping.  Wapping might well have one of the highest ratios of hyperlocals to residents in the country and between us we don’t miss much.

Knock knock. Who’s there? A story!

Finding content for Love Wapping is never a problem. It’s the East End. Sometimes stories literally knock on my door. In fact there is a surplus of great stories, most of which don’t get covered due to restraints on time and resources.

Which leads to the crazy situation where the established but dying local papers fail to provide good coverage of local stories because their reporters are stuck behind a desk many miles away and hyperlocals  fail to provide good coverage of local stories because their writer / publishers are stuck behind their desk doing their day job.  Hyperlocals just don’t pay.  So the paucity of local news coverage continues.

So in the ‘information age’ it would seem there is not enough information getting to people.

My local NHS general practice in Wapping Lane does great work and is integral to our community and I have started to attend its patients forum. Trouble is that, and maybe this is partly the curse that goes with any aspect of modern life that uses the ‘forum’ word, it is not as effective as it could be. Meeting every couple of months there is the feeling that it just does not do what it should do.

And the problem the practice has – along with most organisations – is that it cannot reach its patients beyond the surgery.

Disengagement with the NHS

So maybe Wapping residents are not interested in their health.  Can this be true.? Everyone has an interest in their own well-being whether they like it or not.  But there does seem to be a disengagement with issues other than immediate personal illness matters.

Mulling over the problem I thought that one possible solution was to make my local doctor’s surgery more ‘interesting’.  If only the staff dealt with matters of life and death every day – oh.

Hyperlocal. NHS GP surgeries. And maybe a data angle?

Medicines Use Review (MUR) service

A few days later I read this in the Guardian.  Bingo.

“Data routinely recorded by pharmacies around the UK could provide physicians, commissioners, public health authorities and the pharmaceutical industry with invaluable insights into the effectiveness of medicines and the behaviour of patients. Every day, pharmacies around the country gather data on the use of medicines, outcomes, adherence levels and the progress of symptoms.”

Seems community pharmacies are an untapped gold mine of data.


Everyone but the patients

Notice how the benefits to everyone and their NHS dog is mentioned in that lead paragraph.  Apart from patients.  Patients are the source of the data and patients should be included as intended beneficiaries of the data. But they seem to be excluded once the initial data harvest is done.

It seems that something called the Medicines Use Review (MUR) service collects shed loads of data and has cost the NHS £85m in the three years ending April 2014.

Basic idea is that this free NHS service is offered by community chemists (or pharmacies if you are in the USA) to patients and is a private chat with the pharmacist (or chemist if you live in the UK) about the different medicines being taken, why they have been prescribed and any subsequent issues. The chemist record the conversation and can make recommendations to patient and or their GP.

And guess what? It seems that every MUR has an automatic data sharing consent clause. Great. But it would seem only for GPs, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England. Doh.

So does this mean that this incredibly useful – and expensive – data can only be used within the NHS?

The Guardian article quotes a study indicating that ‘data from MURs indicates that 25% of patients with long-term conditions don’t use their medications as directed.’ Why not? How could this be addressed? Do the people with long-term conditions know this?

Turning data into information

An informal conversation with a NHS professional suggests that there may be a way to get the untapped (data) gold mine of MUR out into the world, turn it into information and so make it of use to the communities that provided the data. 

I do not know if this can be done but it is definitely worth finding out.  And then find out if this data can be sourced centrally for wider comparative work.

Well visualised and relevant data published on a hyperlocal platform such as Love Wapping (or love anywhere for that matter) may in turn help to engage the local community with their doctor’s surgery.

There is no reason why the established media should be better at the analysis and explanation of data than hyperlocals. And of course hyperlocals know the area they are talking about.

No doubt there will be lots of challenges in solving this particular problem. But then that’s the fun. Potential benefits? Unknown. Only one way to find out.

For more information:

BBC Data Day presentation slides

Here is the slide deck I used for my talk at the recent BBC College Data Day event at the Mailbox in Birmingham.

I hope this is of use to people despite it lacking detail.

Please contact me if you are interested in me talking to your organisation about data journalism.

The Value of UK Hyperlocal Community News

Last year I was interviewed regarding my hyperlocal site Love Wapping for an academic study into ‘the value of UK hyperlocal community news’.

This work by Andy Williams, Dave Harte and Jerome Turner should be of interest to anyone interested in hyperlocal issues. Here is an extract:

“The public interest value of news is often viewed through the prism of its relationship to democracy. In this respect news should act as: a source of accurate and plural information for citizens; a watchdog on elites; a mediator and/or representative of communities; and as an advocate of the public in campaigning terms. All of these roles are under pressure in the United Kingdom’s commercial local news sector. This has led many to speculate, often without evidence, that the output of a new generation of (mainly online) hyperlocal citizen news producers might (at least partially) play some of these roles. To test this assumption, we completed 34 semi-structured interviews with producers, the largest content analysis to date of UK hyperlocal news content (1941 posts on 313 sites), and the largest ever survey of UK community news practitioners (183 responses). We found that these sites produce a good deal of news about community activities, local politics, civic life and local business. Official news sources get a strong platform, but the public (local citizens, community groups) get more of a say than in much mainstream local news. Although there was little balanced coverage in the traditional sense, many community journalists have developed alternative strategies to foster and inform plural debate around contentious local issues. The majority of hyperlocal news producers cover community campaigns and a significant minority have initiated their own. We also found that critical public-interest investigations are carried out by a (surprisingly) large number of community news producers.”

The usual bullshit

Grabbing at this chance at self-promotion here is my bit!

This unwillingness to balance sources in critical reporting is rooted, in part, in a pragmatic expectation that the PR office in question will not take any questions or allegations seriously (Kean talks of “bland meaningless responses”), but also in a certain amount of contempt for the uncritical way in which local newspapers already routinely provide a mouthpiece for the output of local government communications officers. Mark Baynes, of campaigning London blog Love Wapping, shares these critiques. When asked whether he balances his critical coverage of Tower Hamlets Council with quotes from relevant officers he told us:

“I don’t see why I should, as a resident, ring the town hall up or anybody else … Because I know all they’re going to give me is the usual bullshit. So what’s the point? And they’ve got a huge media machine … I don’t see, to be quite honest, why any hyperlocal should. Because if you look at it in the broader context of media and communications in our society: if Tower Hamlets wants to get on TV, they can get on TV. They can send a press release to the East London Advertiser [the local weekly newspaper] … and they literally print the press release.”
Gosh! Bit strong.

BBC Data Day

There again it’s not as strong as some of the views I might express next week during my talk at the BBC Data Day in Birmingham organised by the BBC College of Journalism.

Hyperlocal, data driven journalism, data visualisation, UXD.

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