The NHS intelligence revolution

The growing shift towards business intelligence in the NHS, and the potential benefits the solution can have, in light of a number trusts opting to introduce data analytics tools to ease pressure on resources

By Nathaniel van Gulck, business intelligence solutions architect at Trustmarque

Judging by the headlines, it would seem as if the NHS is never far from crisis, not least due to budget issues.

This type of actionable data insight could help NHS trusts address the costly issue of missed appointments, which the NHS estimates currently costs it £700m per year

According to some sources, it faces a financial deficit of £30billion, so it’s no secret that the service is being asked to find huge amounts of savings, efficiencies, and cost reductions. If the NHS is to be more efficient, then making effective use of technology and business intelligence (BI) will be critical.

Not only to find savings, but because of legal obligations from the Francis Report ; it specified data should become more accessible and easier to share following events at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. If NHS trusts can successfully implement BI projects, they can bring together key information sources to help deliver continuous service improvement and support the ultimate aim of the NHS – excellent patient care.

More than just a status report

Implementing a BI project can often prove challenging. Gartner estimates that 70% are unsuccessful in achieving their aims. In part, this can be explained by the logistical challenges of an organisation as large and unwieldly as the NHS. But this failure rate is also down to a fundamental disconnect between the IT teams implementing BI projects and the rest of the organisation. In many cases, IT teams will look to incorporate data from all departments, clinicians and staff, with the aim of leaving no stone unturned.

While well-intentioned, this can lead to IT teams carrying out huge, expensive back-end transformations – for example, a large-scale data warehousing project – which does not produce the information clinicians need to improve patient outcomes. Plus, these projects ultimately fail to make the most of BI, and may ultimately be seen by chief information officers as handy tools for producing snapshot status reports to compare actuals against pre-set targets, but little else.

Making the most of BI

BI as a status report can be positive – such reports can identify wasteful practices and overspending, for example. However, to take full advantage of BI, clinician requirements and a business case based on patient outcomes should be at the heart of any project. The ‘Paperless NHS’ concept is a good example here; clinicians can record data digitally, with self-service BI tools then allowing meaningful clinical process performance benchmarks to be set and time-tested statistical techniques applied as part of deliberate improvement initiatives. This approach can greatly improve outcomes; for example, by raising ‘early warning scores’ about dangers such as sepsis, reducing the length of hospital stays and saving lives.

A key factor in making sure that this happens is eliminating the gap between IT, statisticians and clinicians by connecting IT systems to statistical processes and technique

These improvements can be achieved by focusing on the short-term goals that will really drive value; tightening the scope of BI projects to address specific issues or targets in particular departments. Projects with a smaller scope are more manageable and can be continuously reviewed to identify areas where the service could be improved. While these improvements may ‘only’ save 30 minutes a day for each clinician, these savings soon mount up. Further, the more time that is freed, the more time that can be given back to clinicians to spend caring for patients.

The multiplier effect

Even with a process as basic as scheduling outpatient appointments, data has the potential to make savings. Staff could review the data to identify the optimal times to book in patients, thereby helping improve appointment attendance rates, for example. One such outpatient department carried out this kind of analysis and discovered a high number of missed appointments on a Saturday for patients under 25. The department then avoided allocating appointments to younger patients at times they were less likely to attend.

Successful BI projects will enable service transformation, help resolve the serious budget crisis that the NHS is facing, and, most importantly, improve patient outcomes

This type of actionable data insight could help NHS trusts address the costly issue of missed appointments, which the NHS estimates currently costs it £700m per year. Additionally, BI can support other NHS aims such as the drive towards Electronic Health Records (EHR). EHRs are the foundation of effective BI projects, so embracing and implementing BI will encourage trusts to push forward with adopting EHRs. As an additional benefit, these two things together will help meet the paperless directive which the NHS hopes to achieve by 2018, estimated to save trusts an approximate £1m a year.

Improved patient outcomes

In order to have a chance to meet savings and patient care targets, trusts need to ensurethey are using BI to enable service transformation and cost-saving measures. A key factor in making sure that this happens is eliminating the gap between IT, statisticians and clinicians by connecting IT systems to statistical processes and techniques. This will allow trusts to embrace the next generation of BI and analytics, where the right data is available to staff at the right time. Successful BI projects will enable service transformation, help resolve the serious budget crisis that the NHS is facing, and, most importantly, improve patient outcomes.

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