This would have been obvious to anyone who would have known about the EMR,
but the story is strung to show the entire effort in a “positive light”. The UK has been struck by a rather bad case of coronavirus epidemic, so if the Economist indulges in a bit of PR speak, it is okay. For the sake of completion, they even had a byte from the “organisation for ensuring patient confidentiality”. I never knew such organisations even existed!
Dr Goldacre and his collaborators have made this easy by leaving a trail of tools, in the form of open-source software that can be downloaded free, by anyone, from GitHub, a popular code repository. That code may be tweaked to run any query on any kind of database.
The broad adoption of this methodology would have big implications. Electronic-health-records systems would cease to be mere stores of data, and would start to become active pieces of the infrastructure underpinning medical research, shifting with the needs of science. This would be particularly important for the development of medical artificial intelligence, which requires large quantities of well-curated data in order to learn about ailments with sufficient accuracy.
With all due respects, it was made to sound like a stroll in the park, with a few, but little speed bumps on the way and like a giant tea party on a bright sunny English afternoon. The reality (after you take the red pill) is different!
I would wait for the final publication, if and when, it is published and should be interesting to see if the current momentum is sustained. I am glad (yes genuinely happy) about the tools left out in the open domain so that it could serve as a template for others to tweak and apply them in their own resource settings.