Nathan Gasco, Divisional Managing Director for Clinical Information Management at Civica, looks at the challenges and huge opportunities for smarter data use across the NHS.
In the ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data’ report, the UK government laid out plans to transform data use across health and social care. Improving trust in the health and care system’s use of data, while helping health professionals to have all the patient information they need were highlighted as top priorities.
Coupled with better data to support local decision making and working with partners to develop innovations that improve patient outcomes, there’s a huge amount of valuable work ahead. And there’s no doubting there are challenges along the way. Health and care professionals need the most up-to-date information to provide the best possible care.
But to do so they need flexible, responsive and integrated systems which provide quick and easy access to information and confidence about when and how they can access this data.
A lack of linked data
However, according to a 2022 report from The Health Foundation, there are some key barriers to using data better. Firstly, it highlighted a lack of linked data with detailed clinical information and issues with data quality. It’s vital that digital platforms such as electronic health records are powering a single clinical view at the point of care. External partners can support this by using existing interoperability within systems, from electronic patient records to prescribing and case management and roster scheduling – to create one linked, single-view of a patient. Without this, we’re collectively adding to the ‘data debt’ which is being built up by creating more data silos. Across the NHS there is a wealth of data, but if we link that data better, we can start to access it and make more informed decisions.
The health care sector is starting to understand the real power of artificial intelligence (AI) in understanding data better. From a better understanding of financial information across a trust or an ICS – to helping build a complete picture of health across a local population – AI can handle vast amounts of data in minutes compared to human interrogation. As an example, our costing AI engine, Aurum, easily identifies systemic variation in clinical data. Using AI and the latest cloud technologies it can mine data in minutes, returning insights in a fraction of the time it would take a human analyst using traditional methods.
Population health intelligence (PHI) is another area making use of data to huge impact. We may have plenty of statistics on issues such as life expectancy from one UK county to another. But we need to understand what’s behind these stats. To help us do so, machine learning can quickly make meaningful analysis of disparate datasets – able to rapidly work across huge volumes and multiple sources of data to identify patterns that can guide decision-making.
For example, it can help us analyse the causes of death at different ages in different demographics and the wide range of influences on them – and work across different health and social care services to effect positive change.
Success at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust
Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust have worked with several of Civica’s integrated health and care software solutions to use data more effectively across the organisation. The team at TEWV used data to tell the patient story more effectively, to build a picture of the complete patient journey, which will inform service provision and how they deliver care in the future.
The team also used data to build a digital poverty map to target areas experiencing the most difficulty. They also used data for trend analysis to understand what’s happening in the local population and issued questionnaires for people in the community to tell them what they would like to see from the Trust’s services. As Kam Sidhu, Chief Information Officer explained: “For me data is about articulating a business problem. We’ve changed our focus – now it’s about using data to find out what we need to inform care, the way the service works, and inform service provision in the future.”
Focus on the right issues
A further challenge is that too much time and infrastructure is sometimes devoted to reactive and routine tasks – which with the right technology could be streamlined and automated to free up time for innovation. What we do know from working with our customers across the NHS is that they do understand the problems – the hard part is delivering the solutions when both budgets and teams are stretched.
But by working with external technology partners and using proven digital solutions already up-and-running across other NHS organisations, trusts can not only learn from each other and share best practice, but also start to break away from the data silos and even use existing platforms which can built upon to create regional records – giving far greater economies of scale benefits.
Flexible, integrated systems are the key to the best patient care now and to support future innovation too. Developing the right technical infrastructure via moving more to cloud technology will also bring benefits from more agile working to increased security and even net-zero gains.
Digital technologies, rooted in a solid foundation of high-quality data, are vital to delivering a world class health and care system in which patient care is responsive, systems are fully integrated and the clinical workforce is happy, motivated and engaged. If we are to continue to transform the NHS for a brighter future, a defined and smart data strategy must sit at the heart of every decision.