NHS Trust use of data analytics spikes amid COVID-19 crisis

As the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept through the UK, NHS Trusts responded by adopting data analytics to help them respond to the threat – but so far too few are sharing those findings with others.

That’s the verdict from a just-published report from Qlik on the use of data analytics in the health service, which found that 84% of all NHS Trusts have been using analytics “use cases” to support patient care and operations during the crisis.

More than half (55%) of  NHS Trusts are using analytics to track positive infections of patients during the pandemic, with 22% deploying this approach to identify when staff may have been exposed to the virus and guide their testing strategy.

At the same time however less than half (45%) are sharing their analytics with other health and public services, and this “limits their opportunity to…identify at-risk people in the community,” according to Qlik, which generated the report with the help of freedom of information requests.

According to the data analysis specialist, the data tools most Trusts are using aren’t able to help frontline heath workers make decisions, with a majority (60%) not capable of identifying population health patterns, informing the creation of clinical care pathways, or helping to diagnose patients.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 has resulted in a “massive step forward” in the use of analytics that is “testament to how the NHS has innovated in response to the crisis,” says Qlik.

One success story highlighted in the report is University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which has used data analytics to introduce big improvements in the delivery of care – for example boosting the proportion of patients triaged within 15 minutes of admission to 95% from 65%.

In another case – involving Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust – use of analytics cut the wait for an MRI scan from 10 days down to two.

Qlik says that three key areas have emerged where NHS Trusts can put data analytics to work most effectively to improve patient outcomes.

One is in population health – sharing data across large numbers of people to support early interventions that could reduce hospitalisations, although that will require a much higher level of data sharing than at present.

Another is empowering frontline healthcare workers to make critical decisions, though at the moment few NHS Trusts are providing accessible tools to give them important information such as what medication a patient is taking and whether they are turning up to appointments.  

Finally, successful use of analytics can be used to make effective, real-time use of NHS resources, and this is the area most pursued by Trusts at the moment, deployed by 82% of those surveyed in areas such as the emergency department, enabling them to prepare and react to surges in demand.

A recurrent theme in the report is a lack of access to data on mobile devices, which would enable insights to be gleaned at the point a decision needs to be made rather than later at a computer screen, according to Mark Singleton of Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust.

“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,” says Singleton.

“Historically, for example, if a nurse was seen getting their phone out on a ward, they’d be reprimanded by the matron. 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’.”

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