NHS Trusts advance use of analytics to manage patient infection status and staff exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

More than half (55%) of Trusts applied analytics to track positive infections of patients during the pandemic, while 22% used analytics to identify potential staff exposure to the virus and to inform testing.

New opportunities also arose for analytics sharing with other public sector organisations, for example around resource management and logistics. The free StockWatch app developed by AdviseInc, in partnership with Catalyst BI and powered by Qlik Sense, and used by over 200 public sector organisations, for example, provided real time insight into Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) resources at a regional level, mapped against demand, so one organisation’s surplus could be shared with another unable to protect its frontline workers.

This massive step forward in the use of analytics during the pandemic is testament to how the NHS has innovated in response to the crisis. Now, there is a significant opportunity to apply the learnings from this accelerated use of data to transform other areas of the health system.

The Using Data and Analytics to Underpin Better Healthcare report, built on analysis of Freedom of Information responses and interviews with NHS Trusts, explores the significant opportunities and shares best practice for the next stage in the NHS’s use of data to improve patient outcomes.

Rob O’Neill, Head of Information at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), said, “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. This research proves the value of data in supporting and improving our NHS.”

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

  1. 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%) of Trusts surveyed are part of multi-agency networks that share analytics. Of this group, just two-thirds use them to understand population health issues (65%) and identify at-risk people (62%). This is largely a management issue rather than a technical challenge. However, 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.
  2. Patient care: Frontline healthcare workers make countless patient care decisions each day, but few have ready access to analytics to inform those decisions. The majority of analytics solutions deployed by NHS Trusts are not even capable of identifying population health patterns (60%) or informing clinical pathways (57%). 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.
  3. Resource management: Analytics is critical to driving value and efficiencies across the NHS to ensure that resources are best utilised. This is one of the greatest areas of analytics investment to date, with 82% of Trusts using analytics to monitor for key operational issues, like Emergency Department 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% to 95% by using analytics. However, massive steps are required to make this analysis accessible to staff when they make operational decisions.

Mark Singleton, Associate Director of Information Management and Technology, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, said, “As we continue to invest in and explore new ways that we can use our data, we are finding new ways to improve both our operations and – most importantly – patient care. For example, we’ve reduced waits for MRIs from ten days down to two through our 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. 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.”

Adam Mayer, Senior Manager at Qlik, said, “In times of crisis, technology advancements stop being a nice to have and drive real value that has immediate impact. 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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