The trend towards using data and analytics to improve patient outcomes in the NHS has been understandably accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In research carried out this summer by Qlik, using quantitative data, Freedom of Information requests, and interviews, 84% of NHS Trusts reported using data analytics to support patient care and operations during the crisis, with more than half (55%) of Trusts applying analytics to track positive infections of patients during the pandemic, while 22% used analytics to identify potential staff exposure to the virus and to inform testing.
This signals a step forward in the use of analytics as part of the medical response to the crisis and a genuine impact on patient outcomes. For example, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) were able to improve the number of patients triaged within 15 minutes from 65% to 95%. At Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust the wait for MRIs was reduced from ten days to two.
To understand how such gains were achieved and to what extent the current use of data and analytics is likely to stick within their organisations, DataIQ discussed the issue with Rob O’Neill, head of information, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, Mark Singleton, associate director of data analytics and assurance, Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, and Adam Mayer, senior manager at Qlik.
DataIQ (DIQ): The current pandemic has surfaced the importance of data and analytics in understanding infection rates and patterns in the population. Can you give a sense of where your Trust was at in its adoption of these tools before the outbreak?
Rob O’Neill (RN): “Data analytics has played a key role in how we operate at UHMBT for a long time. We pioneered the creation of an Analytical Command Centre in our Emergency Department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary site. Modelled on an airport Air Traffic Control system, we have a series of large dashboards displaying live and predictive information about patients throughout their hospital.
“Giving our frontline care workers instant access to key information, such as the status of ambulances, surges in demand, which patients are due for discharge, as well as the current bed state across the Trust, is critical for empowering them to make informed decisions relating to the patient experience and care.
“It has had a massive impact on how we operate. The numbers of patients triaged within 15 minutes of arrival has improved from around 65% to a position where the Trust consistently triages 95% of patients within 15 minutes of arrival at one of the Emergency Departments. We’ve also seen a significant fall in medical outliers since the Command Centre went live, which is known to support high quality care and improved patient outcomes.”
DIQ: In terms of responding to this unprecedented challenge, does the urgency of the situation help (because it overwhelms any counter-arguments or resistance) or hinder (because data and tools have to rolled out in very compressed timeframe)?
RN: “The levels of collaboration across NHS trusts, public services, and with suppliers has created some very positive partnerships that have helped us collectively identify the best ways to respond to this crisis. For example, by working with CatalystIT - and thanks to the availability of free Qlik Sense licences to NHS providers - we were able to help seven trusts in London adopt modules of our Analytical Command Centre to help them manage their response to the crisis: ambulance messaging, which alerts staff to how many ambulances are predicted, details of patient type; and bed management messaging, which gives staff access to the bed status across each ward on every site.”
DIQ: Similarly with technology, such as StockWatch and Qlik Sense, should there be a focus on providing these enabling tools to frontline healthcare workers as a matter of national policy, or is it better for each NHS Trust to decide what is appropriate?
Adam Mayer (AM): “The benefits are huge when frontline staff have the data they need at their fingertips and the success of the StockWatch app, which enabled public sector organisations to track Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and UHMBT’s Analytical Command Centre is due to each being designed to respond to the users’ specific requirements, whether they’re hospital cleaners, nurses or procurement managers.
“The best uses of analytics are those that are designed in partnership with the users to ensure that they will provide them with the information they need to make more informed decisions, without making the process more cumbersome. Of course, we believe - based on our research and the experience of our customers around the world - that all healthcare organisations will benefit from increasing their use of analytics. However, the small differences between trusts and hospitals means that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all analytical solution.
“But it is important for NHS IT and Information teams to share recommendations, best practice and tools when they can be of service to other organisations. The adoption of modules from UHMBT’s Analytical Command Centre in London is a great example of this and just one of many across the NHS.”
DIQ: To be effective in the use of data and analytical tools requires a level of data literacy - is there an awareness and understanding of this within the NHS generally and your Trusts specifically? What support is offered to help healthcare workers to develop these skills?
Mark Singleton (MS): “Despite just 12% of NHS trusts running a data literacy training programme, there’s growing recognition for the importance of up-skilling NHS employees to work with data. In addition to increasing data literacy training, one of the best ways to support healthcare workers in developing their ability to use data as part of their decision-making process is to create dashboards and applications that enable them to easily manipulate and draw out the information they need.
“We cannot and don’t expect all our staff to become experts in using data. Instead, it’s important for insights to be made as accessible and actionable as possible for those with even the most limited experience of using data. This way, everyone can build their confidence and understanding of using data as part of their roles through hands-on experience.”
DIQ: There are clearly some great outcomes to be achieved from getting all of this right - can you share a success story from your organisation?
MS: “Our organisation has been on a transformation journey to becoming data-driven since 2012, when we first started putting the groundwork in place. We now over 100 different Qlik applications that support an array of operations across the trust that provide actionable data which helps us identify opportunities to drive efficiencies and, in turn, reduce costs while improving the quality of patient care.
“The achievements I’m particularly proud of are where our frontline staff are part of the whole data journey. For example, by enabling patient flow managers to use an iPad to easily capture data on the number of patients awaiting discharge across different wards, we were able to identify bottlenecks in patient care. We previously didn’t even know how long it was taking before for a patient to have an MRI scan. Thanks to the more agile reporting and analysis, we’ve now reduced that from 10 days down to two days.”
DIQ: Given your experiences as adopters of data and analytics, what happens next? Will these tools continue to be pushed out across your Trust and to frontline healthcare workers? Has this pandemic led to a tipping point in their use?
MS: “There’s certainly no question that data analytics is playing a transformative role in the NHS and that there’s no turning back from it. There are massive opportunities for efficiencies to be driven across resource management, while giving staff a 360-degree view of patients’ medical histories improves the effectiveness of care paths, their experiences in care, and outcomes across the whole service.
“We will continue to innovate and work with our teams internally to identify new opportunities for us to use analytics to support their decision-making processes. And we will also support other NHS trusts and healthcare organisations in understanding how analytics has helped us and what our key learnings are. I’m incredibly excited to launch our new Data and Innovation Hub at WWL soon to help us do this.”
RN: “We will continue to push ourselves to ensure that our solutions are providing the best possible insights to drive the greatest outcomes across the service. We’ve recently been developing active predictive analytics solutions that integrate DataRobot’s autonomous machine learning capability into our full into our Qlik Sense app stack, so that predictions in our Analytical Command Centre are now automatically updating daily.
“As part of this, we’re about to launch projects to investigate whether we can predict both a patient discharge date and likelihood of re-admission while they’re in-hospital and being treated as an inpatient. We’re also working with a clinical lead to test whether we can accurately identify whether citizens are at risk of developing long term conditions to inform where we can make early interventions.”