Case study: Putting agile intelligence into community care

Richard Tarring of Sirona Care explains why a collaborative data integration and reporting project, believed to be the first of its kind, will enhance intelligence and allow staff to improve learning disability and community services for patients

In IT, the NHS way isn’t the only way, writes Richard Tarring, commercial director at Sirona Care and Health Community Interest Company. In this article, he explains how a collaborative data integration and reporting project, believed to be the first of its kind, will enhance intelligence and allow staff to improve learning disability and community services for patients and clients in South Gloucestershire.

Procurement processes and IT deployments in the health service are rarely known for their flexibility or agility

Procurement processes and IT deployments in the health service are rarely known for their flexibility or agility. So what happens when you combine a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC) and two innovative UK technology suppliers? The answer for people receiving learning disability and community services in South Gloucestershire is starting to emerge.

2014 saw Sirona take on learning disability and adult community services across South Gloucestershire. It was the start of a different way of doing things that is already enabling better services; a journey that began with better information.

An agile approach

The previous provider of South Gloucestershire’s community and learning disability services had relied on a costly arrangement with a local supplier for its reporting to commissioners from its RiO patient administration system.

However, Sirona decided to remove this arrangement and utilise in-house IT resources for reporting, which it was already doing for other services across Bath and North East Somerset.

The decision would deliver an annual £500,000 saving and give Sirona the ability to redesign services around the needs of patients and service users. However, the move required a rapid and complex programme of data migration, which posed a significant challenge, as the company was not familiar with the incumbent RiO system.

In a very tight and challenging six month time scale, Sirona needed to seamlessly replicate more than 200 reports that clinical staff were already using on RiO, into CXAir, a new organisational analysis solution that was being deployed across the organisation. This should have been a significant task, one which Sirona only achieved by being able to quickly collaborate with external expertise, unrestrained by the traditional, burdensome procurement processes often encountered in the NHS.

There are big plans ahead to develop the systems to provide even better information and patient care

A tripartite partnership was quickly formed. Connexica was already engaged for the analytics and reporting tool. Sirona then turned to Apira, an NHS implementation specialist, to provide the necessary advice on data migration from the existing RiO system, without which locating the data necessary to generate reports would have been like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Each partner had its own role to play, to ensure every report was rewritten from scratch within CXAir, so they would appear to clinical users in exactly the same way that they had done on the RiO system.

The process involved a highly-unusual level of collaboration and agility. Input from all sides, including teams and clinical staff at Sirona, was critical. And instead of starting with a detailed specification, ideas were discussed and an overall working framework was created, which kept the project agile enough to quickly change direction when problems or issues were encountered, or when new actions were suggested by one of the partners to achieve results.

An NHS project of this nature would have required a fully-costed and detailed specification, as well as a tender process. Sirona didn’t have the time to do that, with just six months from start to finish.

Real-time intelligence

Sirona can now not only fulfil its contractual reporting requirements to commissioners, but has moved from measuring activity in monthly reports to having access to real-time intelligence that is integrated across the services and geographical areas it serves. This has real meaning for patients who use the services.

As a not-for-profit organisation, Sirona is only interested in providing better quality of care. The system has allowed it to do that from the moment it was rolled out.

Redesigning services, managing resources

The NHS has seen some big IT disasters in the past and so even though this is a relatively small win, it is a definite win

Sirona has been able to look at internal efficiencies. It can see why it might be more efficient in one district nursing area than another, for example, and can start to redesign services and, by looking at capacity and efficiencies, can start to identify where there are bottlenecks.

The system can compare activity information from community nurses. If one nurse can carry out eight visits in a day and another is able to do six, the system will start to look at the reasons why. Is it due to travelling time? Do they need to look at the routes they are travelling? Does one nurse go into the centre of the city? This information can then be used to try to increase the amount of facetime clinical staff get to spend with their patients.

Following the patient journey

Staff now have far better visibility of patients. The whole journey can be charted to show where a patient has been, and where they are going. This can be very powerful information in delivering the right care, at the right place. If you can cut down the need for a visit, that helps the patient. If they don’t have to come to an outpatient clinic, a home visit could happen instead. There is also no longer a need to ask for a patient’s history over and over again as clinicians draw information from the same system.

Access to information

One of the biggest benefits is the availability of information to community-based staff. Previously they would have needed to travel back to base to look at the patient record. Now, thanks to new reporting and the new systems put in place, they have access to that information in the field.

Moving into the future – predictive care

What has been achieved is only the beginning. There are big plans ahead to develop the systems to provide even better information and patient care. At the moment we react to things. In the future we intend to start being predictive and intervening earlier. This is the start of things, rather than the end product.

Beyond NHS IT disasters

This may be one of the first projects of its kind, but community services will continue be managed in new ways by organisations like Sirona into the future, meaning further movement towards a more-flexible, commercial way of doing things. This will save money and improve services for the end user.

Tarring said: “Sirona now has the building blocks to rebuild reports from other systems that may be unfamiliar to us, which will help the CIC to successfully bid to run more community services as it presents a more cost-effective model that better serves patients.

“More broadly, we now have a project approach that can be used in the future, one that is based on flexibility, agility and unorthodox routes to effective and rapid collaboration with innovative and supportive parts of the healthcare technology marketplace.

“The NHS has seen some big IT disasters in the past and so even though this is a relatively small win, it is a definite win.

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