In the year 2000, Bill Clinton opened up the global positioning system (GPS) satellite signal to anyone who wanted to use it. Previously, the US government had operated a policy of ‘selective availability’, meaning only the US military had access to truly accurate location data.

This move birthed mass-market location-based services. Today’s mobile phone maps, satellite navigation tools and location-based social gaming services (e.g. Facebook Check In and foursquare) wouldn’t exist if Clinton hadn’t taken that decision.

Opening up patient health data

Ten years later and David Cameron is pushing to make anonymised patient health data available to businesses like large pharmaceutical companies. His aim is to drive innovation in life sciences.

If privacy concerns can be overcome then this visionary prescription could herald a revolution similar to that which followed Clinton’s move. It would be just the kind of low cost, austerity compatible shot-in-the-arm that Dr Osborne ordered – even if it is more Californian alternative therapy than traditional British medicine.

Patient data to produce new brands?

Just a day after Cameron’s announcement, the UK Department of Health revealed the launch of its ‘three million lives telehealth campaign’. The aim of this five-year programme is to meet Cameron’s aim to have “heart disease patients having their blood pressure and pulse rate checked, without leaving their home”.

Telehealth – the delivery of health services via technologies like the internet rather than providing them in person – can significantly benefit people with long-term conditions like heart disease.

As this rich UK patient data starts becoming available, it will be fascinating to see how many new world-class UK brands emerge.

(Nicholas Christakis TED@Cannes “How social networks predict epidemics”).