What we have learnt from data in the NHS

Data in the NHS

Data. We’re drowning in it. Yet in a world intensely focused on its potential power, there’s little thought given to how we go about making sense of it. Outside of sophisticated technology companies, most of us are unaware of how to truly unlock the power of data. This is especially true when it comes to the NHS…

Data in the NHS is hard to access, hard to understand and even harder to make useful.  But if we are to meet the challenges the modern health service faces, we must learn to uncover, connect, translate and present the stories this data can reveal.

I have worked on numerous improvement projects where the starting position is based on information that is anecdotal, fragmented and disconnected.  Even where there are existing systems in place, data can be difficult to extract and compare. This can make drawing conclusions nigh on impossible.

Weeding out manual processes, engendering a culture of data awareness, and making basic data analytics skills and techniques much more widely available across the NHS is essential if the health service is to survive and thrive in the coming years.

Thankfully, the NHS is making strides towards unlocking these stories.  We have recently seen some great leadership from NHSI on helping Trust Boards to focus on trends and longer-term patterns through the use of Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts.  This allows for considered decisions by focusing on long term patterns, rather than the knee-jerk reactions to short term events.

There is also a role here for HealthTech providers to be part of the solution.  System interoperability is quite rightly a key aim in the most recent government plans.  However, how many HealthTech systems provide their users with clear and concise reporting on key trends and indicators?  Systems with random excel data dumps, or pretty but static, complex and ultimately meaningless charts won’t cut it any longer and shouldn’t be acceptable to Trust decision-makers.

HealthTech providers should not only help users access the data within their systems, but also be on hand to help them understand and consume this data, especially at the most senior levels within the organisation. It is only when senior stakeholders can access, understand and hold the data to account that we will see meaningful decision-making, and sustainable change. At a time of unparalleled pressures, it is this clarity which the NHS so desperately needs.

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