Comment: Using data to get smart and improve efficiency

Alex Saric, a smart procurement expert at Ivalua, explains how healthcare providers can better use the data they possess to improve the efficiency and make much-needed savings

Alex Saric

Modern hospitals and healthcare systems are challenged with striking a delicate balance between running a smooth, cost-effective operation and remaining flexible and devoted to patient care.

This shift promises to modernise hospitals and lay the foundation for a truly-digital workplace, but also means hospitals are sitting on rapidly-growing mountains of data

This is particularly important for the NHS, which continues to be squeezed on all sides by tight budgets.

This efficiency drive is taking place while the UK healthcare industry is in the midst of a dramatic shift from manual, legacy systems to more-data-driven applications.

The change is notably marked by a host of new back-end infrastructure in the cloud and on premise, supporting everything from online symptom triage services to electronic prescription services.

This shift promises to modernise hospitals and lay the foundation for a truly-digital workplace, but also means hospitals are sitting on rapidly-growing mountains of data.

Such data can be used to help healthcare providers, like the NHS, create efficiencies while managing the delicate balancing act between cost and the quality of patient care i.e. the facilities, equipment, services and staff resourcing.

The need to make the most of data and improve efficiency is high, but the volume and variety of data that needs analysing requires hospitals to redefine their data standards. This will make processes more efficient and create the savings needed to impact the bottom line.

The need to make the most of data and improve efficiency is high, but the volume and variety of data that needs analysing requires hospitals to redefine their data standards

The healthcare landscape in the UK is complex, and growing more so through convergence of trusts, legislation, and population pressures.

Supply chains are intricate, medical technology (e.g. IoT devices, mobile health, telemedicine) introduces new risks, and critical system implementations are notoriously replete with pitfalls.

As a result, healthcare is becoming increasingly data-driven. Much of this data is now heavily regulated for both privacy (patient records) and transparency (cost and value of services provided) reasons. This amount of confidential data means that cyber attack outages, breach notifications and penalties, public trust, and even patient safety are primary concerns.

To address these concerns, healthcare providers must have exemplary data governance in place to manage the huge volume and variety of data and mitigate any concerns. However, despite the volume of data flowing through systems, far too many healthcare providers are dependent on spreadsheet-based tracking, manual processes, and disconnected reporting structures. This also applies to supporting procurement and supply chain systems.

Providers must focus on formalising data governance and establishing data standards and policies to sustain quality.

Deploying best-of-breed tools to facilitate de-duplication and error checking helps reduce costs and risks, and enhances buying power. Clean data is fundamental to any attempt to create data-driven insights, which, in turn, can successfully deliver goods and services that meet high standards in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

As more applications are powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), data quality becomes even more important. AI relies on a solid data foundation to generate insights and improve automation. Many organisations are disappointed by initiative leveraging AI because they fail to simultaneously address data quality, as a recent study by Forrester revealed.

Organisations must assess the state of master data across various domains and define cleansing and enrichment rules to deploy a robust governance model that continuously improves data quality. The results are worth the effort, giving visibility across the value chain, enabling better sourcing decisions, maximising buying power, and streamlining compliance.

The benefits of having this data in place go beyond finding efficiencies.

Given the constant evolution in regulations, technological agility and data-driven insights are critical requirements.

Without end-to-end data governance, the NHS and other healthcare providers donít stand a chance of keeping up with regulations such as the NIS directive and GDPR.

As enforcement shifts unpredictably in practice and focus, healthcare organisations are compelled to prepare by developing best practices in risk management and data governance. Having data standards in place allows procurement to better plan for and evaluate risk.

Data-driven insights also help organisations to evaluate supplier performance and risk, so the NHS can ensure it works with low-risk suppliers.

The NHS is being exposed to more risk than ever before as the market to source surgical tools, scrubs, and other equipment, has become global. For example, an estimated 80-90% of surgical instruments are manufactured in Pakistan.

The NHS needs to keep a close eye on suppliers to ensure that such global outsourcing is not harming basic labour rights and to minimise environmental impact.

Having visibility of, and knowing its suppliers in detail, can help healthcare organisations to mitigate risk.

By making the most of the data available to them, procurement teams can make the efficiency savings needed and help improve agility and compliance in other areas, without impacting the quality of patient care

In todayís unpredictable environment, The NHS and other healthcare organisations require a powerful combination of capabilities and the agility to respond to constant change and evolving requirements.

Supplier Risk and Performance Management solutions are a critical enabler, assuming they provide the agility to support constantly changing requirements.

Becoming more data driven may seem like a complicated approach, but it can work wonders within any healthcare organisation.

Making procurement more data driven creates the savings needed within the healthcare service without interrupting patient care.

Procurement has already proven it can make savings for an already-stretched NHS. Since the Carter Initiative, the NHS has already found £300m in savings against the £700m target originally set. Additionally, a recent performance update found that savings driven by procurement will grow continually from next year.

The volume and variety may seem intimidating, but by making the most of the data available to them, procurement teams can make the efficiency savings needed and help improve agility and compliance in other areas, without impacting the quality of patient care.

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