Three steps to accelerate the value of data in the NHS

Adam Mayer, Senior Manager at Qlik

It’s no secret that the NHS has been under huge pressure over the last few months. The pandemic has also made us more acutely aware of the immense strain on the health service from long-term challenges – like that of a growing and aging population – that still greatly impact the future of care delivery.

Many NHS Trusts have been looking for new ways to improve patient care and drive efficiencies that will relieve the strain on staff. Data has proved itself to be critical to achieving this: helping organisations gain a more holistic understanding of their patients’ needs, track resources in near-real time against demand, and empowering their staff to make more informed decisions.

The pandemic exemplified this, with Freedom of Information (FOI) responses revealing 84% of NHS Trusts reporting that analytics was integral to their management and response to the virus. More than half (55%) apply analytics to the infection status of COVID-19 patients, and more than one in five (22%) used it to identify staff members exposed to the virus and inform testing. It was also utilised at a regional level by over 70 NHS Trusts to manage Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) logistics, enabling resources to be shared between organisations so that all frontline workers could be protected.

However, while data has been instrumental in the NHS’s response to the pandemic, our new report, Using Data and Analytics to Underpin Better Healthcare, based on analysis of FOI responses and insights from Trusts leading the charge in its adoption, has revealed that there is still more work to be done. 

We identified three key areas where NHS Trusts can accelerate the value that they drive from their data:

  1. Sharing data analysis will make the biggest impact

Shared data allows Trusts to better serve the wider community through broader understanding of health trends, which in turn allows staff to prioritise patients that are most in-need, first. However, currently, just 45% of NHS Trusts are part of a multi-agency integrated network that shares data. Through greater integration of regional healthcare data and analytics, Trusts will be able to adopt a more holistic approach to population health, based on shared insights into patients and communities that are most at-risk, to ensure more people can be treated early and in their own homes.

  1. Empowering employees to use data to make decisions on the go

For data to be used effectively across the entire organisation, it needs to be embedded into every decision-making process. Given that most healthcare professionals are incredibly time poor, it is important that analytics are made readily available, accessible and are integrated into existing decision-making process. Yet, many NHS Trusts face a major roadblock in delivering agile insights, with less than half of them making analytics accessible on employees’ mobile devices.

Delivering data insights to portable devices enables healthcare staff to conveniently access them as they make decisions. University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, for example, enables its team to self-serve using Qlik Sense on mobile devices and delivers push alerts for timely insights. This, the Trust’s Head of Information, Rob O’Neill reported has resulted in “greater staff engagement, great staff satisfaction and greater data-driven decision making.”

  1. Giving people the skills to work with data

Providing employees with analytics is only valuable when staff have the skills and knowledge to translate it into actionable insight. The healthcare industry isn’t immune to the data literacy skills deficit – the ability to read, understand and work with data. However, few Trusts are working to close that skills gap. Currently, only 12% of Trusts offer data literacy training, with just 7% making it available to all staff.  The potential for data in the NHS will only be achieved if Trusts recognise education in data as a critical success factor.

A new way of working

NHS Trusts across the country have embraced the potential of data to improve their delivery of care, exemplified by the rapid adoption of new analytics use cases during the pandemic. However, it is clear that there are unexploited opportunities for data to drive further efficiencies, increase employee satisfaction and improve patient outcomes.

As we start to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown in the coming months, it is important that Trusts continue to embrace the use of data as best practice. An integrated data-driven culture across the entire NHS will bridge the gap between insight and outcomes, and ultimately, save patient lives.

To find out more about our using data and analytics to underpin better healthcare, register for Qlik’s webinar on 21st July with NHS England here.


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