On almost every front our healthcare system is under pressure, as it works to regain ground lost during the pandemic while continuing to face multiple challenges, ranging from staff recruitment and retention to the care demands of our ageing population. To tackle their pressing workload, the NHS’ clinical and operational teams must make decisions as efficiently as possible, without compromising patient safety, quality and access of care.
But all too often efficiency of decision making is constrained by a lack of relevant and accurate data. Whether clinical teams are considering the source of referrals or operational staff are questioning the use of estate facilities, they need data to gain the insights that drive informed decision making.
This is central to the effective deployment of new models such as same-day emergency care (SDEC) for acutely unwell patients, where care must, where possible, be given to patients on the day of arrival at a facility. Gathering and sharing of data across health and care services are also essential for England’s new integrated care systems (ICSs) as they look to meet their remit of providing more joined-up services.
Beyond day-to-day internal decision making, data has the potential to drive broader transformation, allowing trusts and providers to benchmark their performance against their peers, sharing learning and driving improvement. Many trusts and providers currently have a limited view of how they are performing against others nationally and regionally on key metrics in areas including staffing, estate management and diagnostics and testing.
Making change happen
To drive more efficient decision making, trusts and providers need to make a huge shift in the way they collect, process and deliver data back to clinical and operational decisionmakers on the ground. A shift in culture and mindset is also required, to ensure data’s potential is maximised.
The new ICSs and models like SDEC are already changing approaches to data and are a natural starting point when making this shift. For example, SDEC activity has traditionally been recorded across three different data sets, but NHS England has now mandated for it to be recorded in only the Emergency Care Data Set, the national data set for urgent and emergency care. This streamlined approach is helping to improve understanding of patient needs, service capacity and demand to inform decisions and future planning and demonstrates the opportunities that lie in data collection.
Our approach to data collection
In our experience, successful data collection at scale demands a focus on four key areas of people, process, privacy and product, with people being at its heart.
It is important to understand your ‘audience’ – NHS staff – and ensure that the purpose of data collection is understood, so that everyone engages early on in the process and makes best use of the resulting data.
This can be achieved by:
- Communicating why data collection is important and how it will help the audience in their daily activities
- Defining the end-product of data collection – dashboards that can be viewed horizontally and vertically, across trusts, regions and nationally
- Discovering what motivates the audience to collect data – which incentives could one utilise?
- Utilise platforms that make the life of clinical and operational teams easier – not harder
The right process must be in place to collect the relevant data points to build the relevant picture. This means:
- Leading with a hybrid approach in collecting the right data points. Bring together the perspective of the relevant stakeholders, including users (staff on the ground), national stakeholders (NHS England) and consulting expertise
- Understanding which data points in national strategies are relevant in determining the performance of the service you’re looking at
- Understanding how each data point can lead to an insight-driven decision and communicating this.
As data privacy experts across multiple industries including the NHS we believe in privacy by design; developing a data collection process to maintain privacy of patients and other service users. This has been an area of some sensitivity, as we saw from the public’s initial hesitancy in using the NHS app in the pandemic.
To achieve this, we develop appropriate data sharing agreements that demonstrate:
- Transparency, fairness and openness by communicating the purpose of the data collection
- How trust data and individual patient data will be used
- Allow parties to exercise their individual rights including the right to restrict processing or the right to object processing.
The digital product or platform specified for data gathering must:
- Make data collection easier for staff and have the right user interface and experience
- Enable users to see the end-point of data collection, so that value of the process is realised and cascaded
These actions are simply the start of an ongoing process of data collection that can ultimately lead to a long-term model, which users can themselves lead on, adjust and process. In this way, data can both enable efficient decision making and empower staff to tackle their challenges.
As a trusted partner to Industry and the Public Sector, Gemserv has successfully applied these principles across a range of projects. In the NHS these have included ICS level projects as well as Trust based local engagements. To see how we can support your specific needs please contact us.