Too much data, not enough detail?

Conference asks is the NHS good at collecting information, but poor at using it to enhance and improve services?

“The NHS is awash with data, but we do need to understand how we can best use that information.”

This was the advice from Dan Wellings, NHS England’s head of insight and feedback, when he addressed the first European Healthcare Design 2015 Congress & Exhibition in London recently.

We have to ask ourselves, to what level are we just good at measuring things, but not good at doing something with all that data?

He said that more work was needed, both nationally and locally, to prepare the NHS for the data revolution and the introduction of fully-digitised electronic patient records.

In particular, he added, data collection could prove central to future patient pathways.

But, he warned: “We have to ask ourselves, to what level are we just good at measuring things, but not good at doing something with all that data?

“The NHS is awash with data and we should start to understand how we can use that together.”

He provided an example of where data collection could have a positive impact on services and service delivery.

Barts Health NHS Trust began using a system to send text messages to patients to remind them about appointments. The first text just reminded them of the clinic time. A second text revealed the cost of missed appointments and gave a telephone number to call to rearrange. The second text led to a 3% improvement in ‘did not attend’ rates.

“A lot of surveys we do are good for academics, but not good for patients,” said Wellings.

“However, I believe that by collecting data and properly reading that information, we can improve health services and the patient experience.”

Technology is also key to helping the system cope with the increased workload for GPs and the expectation that they will take on more diagnostic and treatment responsibilities locally, said Candace Imison, director of healthcare systems at the Nuffield Trust.

She added: “Telehealth is going to be a really-significant part of healthcare in the future. In particular, it creates a support mechanism for clinicians.

I believe that by collecting data and properly reading that information, we can improve health services and the patient experience

“A big challenge in this country is that GPs are expected to be everything and do everything. You need to have a degree of special interest in these illnesses and GP training has not covered all of that. Therefore, we will be reliant on technology to provide the mechanism for GPs to link up with specialist consultants.

“The traditional model of a GP referring someone to a specialist, then getting them back after treatment, does not enhance learning at all.

“We are about to embark on a comprehensive digital journey and this will be massive in my view.

“In hospitals and primary care settings, there will be a whole lot of new opportunities brought to us by technology.

“In the future we will be able to integrate medical records to see patients as a whole in a way that we have historically not been able to do.

“In this technology-enabled world the system will begin to see the real impact it is having on patients and hopefully we can learn from that.”

And Dr Majid Kazmi, a consultant haematologist Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are trying to open the doors to a more patient-centred journey. For this, we have got to use technology.

“We cannot expect patients to travel to us for every intervention and technology will be a key enabler to helping us find different ways to do things.

“This will not only be good for patients, but also for clinicians to be able to move about more freely.”

We are about to embark on a comprehensive digital journey and this will be massive in my view

But she warned that, with the increased adoption of technology, patient needs must still come first.

She said: “Not everyone will want to be part of the health data world and we need to bear that in mind. We must not lose sight of what really matters to people.

“If we build an infrastructure around supported living that enables people to be independent, we will reduce the risk of people going to hospital in the first place. We need to recognise that hospitals are not islands. We can never get a perfect organisation, but evidence shows that the key thing is trust and relationships and we need to build them across all patient pathways. Technology can help with this.”

Supporting increased use of technology, Dr Majid Kazmi, a consultant haematologist Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

The two-day conference was organised by SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange and Architects for Health.

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