The human factor in healthcare optimisation and digital health

doctor looking a screens

Written by Sean Price, EMEA Director of Industry Solutions, Public Sector & Healthcare, Qlik

On 7th January, the NHS outlined its long-awaited 10-year plan. Publishing some strong milestones for the health service, it also included many noteworthy digital components such as an ambitious target for the health service to become fully digitised by 2024.

To deliver this, NHS organisations will be required to have a chief information officer (CIO) at board level by 2021. But what lies behind these targets? And what are the smaller steps that NHS trusts can take now to get on this path to better, digitised care?

The key, in my perspective all lies in data. More specifically, it lies in how humans in the health service are trained to handle and manage data for the best patient outcomes and to better understand patient flow.

In this piece, drawing on our ongoing work with Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, I will explore how hospital staff can work with data most effectively to set hospitals on the right path for digital maturity.

The age of the ‘data command centre’

The importance of access to live data in the health service should not be downplayed. Emergency doctors across the country are struggling to meet targets due to an increased demand for services and more than ever, need new techniques to help them combat the challenge. So much can be acted upon and understood in more detail with real time data monitoring such as patient flow, ambulance thoroughfare, demand versus forecast, monitoring of service provision and patient satisfaction.

Hospitals should look to establish a data ‘command centre’ of sorts, where the combined data sets from different systems can give a more holistic approach. This is something the team at Morecambe Bay have already implemented. Designed in a similar way to an airport’s air traffic control room, this live centre is clearly showing which patients are due for discharge and why there might be delays, right through to analysing the demand for beds, the number of walk ins and if there has been a surge in patients.

Humans working with technology

This live data command centre is all very well and good, but it wouldn’t mean much without the people behind it, drawing meaningful conclusions from the data. Nurturing the right culture is crucial. In the case of Morecambe Bay, the visual flow of the screens in the command centre have been carefully designed to provide a tangible physical flow of information in order to make operations more efficient. These screens were designed by the operations team and not the IT team.

Data literacy must take centre stage

In order to become fully digitised by 2024, data literacy has to take centre stage. Training employees to better understand, argue with and interpret data will be the key if command centres like the one implemented at Morecambe Bay, are to truly succeed.

In fact, our own research reveals that the ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data hasn’t gone unnoticed by employees in the health sector, with 57% saying they would invest more time into improving their data skillset.

So, how can this tangibly be done in a hospital environment?

  • Find a data champion: Ensure that a ‘data champion’ has a seat at the table to help the board recognise the importance of data;
  • Bridge the skills gap: The Data Literacy Index showed that 16-24-year-olds fall below the average level of data literacy, highlighting that young adults are not imparted with the skills to succeed in a tech-imbued workplace. The C-suite sitting on the board of a hospital should, however, harness the ‘digital comfort’ of this generation, but not assume they are confident with analysing data; and
  • Break down silos: Most data literate talent is likely to sit within the IT or business intelligence teams, which is all very well but doesn’t lend itself to nurturing a data literate hospital environment. Board-level healthcare practitioners should create opportunities for data leaders to share knowledge with employees from across the trust.

The NHS 10-year plan signals an incredibly positive move for the creation of a fully digitised health service. It needn’t be daunting ‘target-gazing’ but a perfectly achievable ambition if the right tools, the right data and the right people are in place to make it happen. The key must be in implementing strong ways for data analysis to thrive, and to celebrate the skills of the people behind it.

Originally posted here.

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