Data and insight: The NHS doesn’t have time to lose

In a previous blog for the British Journal of Healthcare Computing, I argued the NHS will not be able to deliver their population health management vision without the right digital tools in place, underpinned by the right staff skills training. Only this will enable them to make integrated systems a reality.

Dr Mark

Throughout the years, people have attributed different definitions to population health management. But, at its core, the concept simply points to a shift in focus from organisations to populations as the organising principle of the NHS. As we move to whole system responsibility for the outcomes of an identified population we have a mechanism for truly integrating care. Is data the glue that can mend a fragmented system? During the Executive Leadership Summit next week at The King's Fund we will be exploring just that. 

Based on its Primary Care Home programme, the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) devised a model for breaking down a population into specific segments based on a simple 3x3 matrix that tracks life course against complexity of need. It is a powerful way of starting the conversation with professionals and the public alike on this paradigm shift. These segments can then be further refined to ensure we are using data and insights to design more targeted and therefore efficient services. It is inevitable that this kind of thinking leads to a more proactive approach to both promoting the population’s wellbeing but also preventing illness – it may just be that prevention has just become mainstream activity in healthcare.

What is needed for the NHS to achieve this vision? 

There are of course important challenges in creating a regulatory and financial environment which makes integration less risky than operating in silos- not the case currently.  Once we have done this it is digital capability and the associated opportunities for re-thinking services that make this all possible.

In a recent Science and Technology Select Committee evidence session, Reform’s Eleonora Harwich emphasised that high-quality data is what will ultimately bring value back to the patient. 

HIMSS UK Executive Leadership Summit, March 2017

Yet, before we can talk about plans around system redesign and extracting value through the use of new platforms, there is a question that we have to ask ourselves: have we got all organisations in our care system up to a minimum acceptable standard of digitalisation to support the delivery of the population health vision? 

Although we have many pockets of excellence, there is still a lot left to be done, and we don’t have time to lose. 

When I was attending the HIMSS18 meeting in the US last week, I heard many stories about this incremental approach to using data. Simply put, the best way to improve data quality is to start using it and to make it relevant to those with the burden of recording. The reality is that a linked data architecture, centred around a patient, not an organisation, is going to be the foundation of our shift to place-based care. 

Addressing this need is going to prove to be crucial for the NHS over the coming years. One thing we are sure of is we must act now if we are to catch up with the technological revolution that is already redefining consumer facing health and care, as it has done with so many other sectors before. There is a danger that those responsible for delivery of services could be left behind in this digital feeding frenzy by those whose care is much closer to home – the public.

So data and the resulting insights can change how we all think about healthcare. Next week we have an exciting opportunity to hear and see some of the coolest examples of this happening now and debate what the future may hold for us. Will you join us?

Register here: 

Dr Mark Davies

Chief Medical Officer, HIMSS UK

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