Professor Daniel Ray’s career in data began 21 years ago as a microbiologist in a medical lab; since then he has worked in various hospitals implementing corporate information projects.
For the last four years, he has held his current position at NHS Digital, which provides commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care in England with information, data and IT systems.
When he was the director of informatics at University Hospital Birmingham (UHB) 14 years ago, he arrived at the same time as other executives including a senior doctor and a senior operations person. They all recognised that data could transform the organisation and that they should turn it into one driven by insight, intelligence, knowledge and data.
“We knew we could get rich clinical data and other data out of the systems that were there that hadn’t been extracted before to enable us to develop a whole range of quality and care outcome and efficiency indicators, metrics that would enable us to monitor exactly what was going on,” he said.
At the time, there was a lot of focus on what happened to a patient in hospital but very little was known about what happened to them once they were discharged. The data that was collected was about waiting times for treatment, the length of stay on the ward, length of time in theatre, and infection and mortality rates. In addition to this, Ray wanted to know, after the patient had been discharged whether they were in pain or not, were they happy they had had the surgery, as well as their length and quality of life once they had returned home.
In addition to elongating the patients’ data journey and collecting data points on them during and after their stay, Ray felt that the nurses could be more empowered if they had better access to patient information. And so he and his colleagues built a clinical dashboard for the 3,300 nurses who worked in UHB which enabled the nurses in every ward to view different care elements.
These care elements were about whether or not the patients were getting the right drugs, whether their observations were being done, infection rates, as well as patient opinions of food, care and cleanliness.
“The nurses who are responsible for delivering the care really became very centred around evidence and using the data to make sure that they were driving best care delivery,” he said.
Ray is evidently just as animated about healthcare as he is about the data that can be drawn from it as he reeled off a list of good patient care indicators, including on-time drug administration and full sets of observations every 12 hours.
“We pulled out the data that we needed and built a picture as to what good care looked like, stuck it on a dashboard and built it in such a way that nurses and other staff could use it to enable a good strong evidence base to be provided about the quality and care that was being delivered,” he said.
The data was presented on the wards on monitors and tablets. Ray strongly believes that data is the key to answering questions and to providing the evidence that would prove or disprove what is known by gut feel alone.
In addition, Ray built a patient portal, consisting of an electronic patient record. “If John Smith goes into University Hospital Birmingham, he’d be offered access to something called My Health. You log in online and you can access your entire medical record, everything, all your letters, lab results, drugs, everything,” explained Ray.
Furthermore, there is a projected called You Care Connected. It’s initially available to clinicians but down the line, patients will also be able to access their records which are connected across the health system.
Currently, Ray is the director of data at NHS Digital. He explained that he is responsible for making sure that four things happen, underpinned by a fifth. He and his team receive data and manage the inbound flow of data and information. Secondly, they process and optimise that data in a data warehouse and on in-cloud solutions.
After that, they analyse the data to produce robust official statistics. “We do data science, building algorithms on top of that data and produce insight and open, interactive tools,” he said.
The fourth thing they do give access to and disseminate the data. He said: “We put it in a remote access environment, it enables people to log in and access the data and we disseminate it to individuals and organisations that have the right and legal basis to access it.”
Ray said that all of this underpinned by setting and enforcing the standards for data quality. “We create and apply data specification standards and clinical standards to make sure that the data that is captured in the health system is consistent, uniform and correct. So data quality is quite a big part of our remit and our role.”
He is assisted in this part by his direct report, the head of data quality, whose remit is to specially create performance evidence frameworks, supplier frameworks, produce data quality reporting. An example of how they do this is by making sure that the systems they have put in place are pushing the user to make sure their data is correct at the point of entry.
Although he has spent the best part of 21 years working with healthcare data, Ray feels the time has come to leave the position he has been in for four years. He sees himself as lucky to have had the career that he’s had. His highlights include working in a commissioning organisation, and creating a commercial analytics company within a hospital.
He’ll be putting his skills and experience to use at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital to help them, partly in recognition of the fantastic care that he and his partner received when they were treated there and where his baby daughter Scarlett sadly died in March 2019.
This painful experience has led Ray to want to give something back to the hospital and to diminish the stigma around the issue of stillbirth and early neonatal death. “It’s a personal passion of mine. It is such a taboo such still and the more that people feel they are able to open up and talk about it, the better.”
Another reason is to help the people in the hospital transform the use of technology in the organisation; understandable given his depth and breadth of knowledge of transforming healthcare.
On top of that, he’s been commuting from his home in Birmingham to Leeds for half of the week and London for the other half of the week and is pretty tired of it. “It’s been exhausting and I am absolutely sick of trains.”
Professor Daniel Ray will be speaking at DataIQ Transform on 13th November at County Hall, London. Find out more about attending here.