Making the silos of data, that the NHS collects, available to front line staff will help the health & care system to progress towards a culture of continuous improvement.
Recently, I have seen a large number of column inches highlighting how clinical information is being put to use in healthcare settings. It is true that the ability to collate, process and make available large amounts of relevant health care data is having, and will continue to have, a big impact on the future direction of the NHS and the patient experience it can provide.
Large organisations, including regulatory bodies such as the Care Quality Commission are collecting and analysing large sets of information. Such organisations recognise that there is great potential in the information that they hold as a result of their activities. They understand that it can be used to improve the way that they carryout their role; in the Commission’s case, as an enabler of better care. The commission achieves this by making available relevant, intelligent statistics on safety to Trusts and the public.
On the one hand, NHS Trusts are able to use this information to benchmark their performance against their peers. Such openness and transparency is a strong force amongst healthcare providers, helping Trusts to pinpoint the areas where improvement is needed, as well as encouraging improvement to occur.
On the other hand, this information can also be beneficial to the public. The availability of care quality information is helping members of the public to make better-informed decisions over where they receive treatment. This is especially advantageous for sufferers of long term health issues, of which there are a growing number.
This high level use of data is providing great improvements. However, in our experience, there can often remain an underutilised opportunity for the intelligent sharing of data across and within the individual NHS Trust. Whilst modern clinical systems ensure a richness of data is collected, the information can often remain hidden from the staff that would benefit most from it; those at the front-line of care delivery.
If the health & care system is to develop a new culture, where innovation is encouraged and the quality of care continuously improves, both good and bad information should be available and transparent for all to see.
For shared information to be of use, then the context must also be made clear. If clinical teams are not aware of what a Trust is seeking to achieve, then how can they be certain that they are contributing in a positive way? It is therefore an imperative for Trust’s to make sure that all staff, from the board to the front line, are clear about their own role in achieving the organisation’s goals.
Before data is shared, there must be an examination of the shared data so that it can become intelligent information. In order to align themselves to the objectives of the Trust, a Trust's services, and the people operating within them, must be able to make the right decisions about what needs to change. Information that is collated, examined and then reported on will have real value in this process.
It may become necessary, post-analysis, to re-visit the data. Collaboration across the Trust will help ensure that the key indicators are correct but also that they are easy to interpret for every team member.
By ensuring the visibility, transparency and appropriateness of information, all staff within a trust will be in a position to spot when things are wrong, and to take the appropriate remedial action.
Using and aligning information in this way would represent a change in culture for many NHS organisations that have historically been focussed on national targets, which may lose their meaning at the patient’s bedside; effectively becoming ‘lost in translation’.
Organisations can maximise the impact of intelligent information by ensuring that staff are engaged, empowered and equipped. Staff must feel enabled to make an improvement when, as a result of using data and information more intelligently, they spot a problem. It is this ‘interface’ between man and data, that when systematically applied, can enable an entire organisation to grow into a model that is comprehensively able to continuously improve.