NHS Trust use of data analytics rises during COVID-19

The development of new data analytics use cases has spiked in response to COVID-19, according to new research from Qlik, which showed 84 per cent of NHS Trusts are using data analytics to support patient care and operations during the crisis.

The business intelligence platform submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to NHS Trusts during the last few months, finding that 55 per cent applied analytics to track positive infections of patients during the pandemic, while 22 per cent used analytics to identify potential staff exposure to the virus and to inform testing.

The report also interviewed relevant people at several trusts, with Rob O’Neill, head of information at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), commenting: “Real-time analytics really matters – especially in a fast-moving environment like the emergency department.

"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."

The research identified three key areas where a greater use of analytics can provide long-term benefits to the NHS.

In terms of population health, sharing data among trusts can identify health trends across large populations and support early interventions that can prevent hospitalisation. But less than half (45 per cent) of those surveyed were part of multi-agency networks that share analytics. Of this group, just two thirds use them to understand population health issues (65 per cent) and identify at-risk people (62 per cent).

The report suggested that this is largely a management issue rather than a technical challenge, although until funding for hospitals moves away from being accorded based on the numbers of patients treated to a more holistic approach, trust leaders are not incentivised to explore this opportunity.

As for patient care, frontline healthcare workers make countless decisions each day, but few have ready access to analytics to inform them. The majority of analytics solutions deployed by NHS Trusts are not capable of identifying population health patterns (60 per cent) or informing clinical pathways (57 per cent). Without investment in tools with these capabilities, NHS workers will be incapable of using patient data to improve care decisions and create more successful patient care pathways, Qlik stated.

And finally, the report suggested that analytics is critical to driving value and efficiencies across the NHS to ensure that resources are best utilised.

This has been one of the greatest areas of analytics investment to date, with 82 per cent of trusts using analytics to monitor for key operational issues, like accident and emergency demand, which enables them to prepare and react to spikes. For example, UHMBT was able to improve the number of patients triaged within 15 minutes from 65 per cent to 95 per cent by using analytics.

Mark Singleton, associate director of information management and technology for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, said that his team has reduced waits for MRI scans from 10 days down to two through data analysis.

"However, for its full benefits to be achieved, we need to make analytics readily available for employees on-the-go, so that they can build it into their existing workflows and decision-making process," he noted. "Historically, for example, if a nurse was seen getting their phone out on a ward, they’d be reprimanded by the matron - so we need to shift the perception of mobiles in hospitals away from ‘checking Facebook’ to ‘a powerful pocket computer that helps me make better decisions'.”

Adam Mayer, senior manager at Qlik, concluded: “While many NHS Trusts have been making significant investments in data analytics and reaping its benefits over the past few years, new and innovative use cases have accelerated over the last few months during the COVID-19 crisis to help hospitals manage their response and keep frontline workers protected.

"It’s important that we harness this opportunity as the health system moves forward to apply the same approaches to improve population healthcare, delivery of care and resource management for better patient outcomes.”

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