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Interview: Data analyics in the NHS

With organisations collecting more information than ever before, the challenge has changed from storing this data, to understanding it and being able to gain some actual business insight.

To delve a bit deeper into how the NHS is making sense of its data, we spoke to Dabid Bolton, senior director for market development for Public Sector and Healthcare at Qlik.

So David, what is Qlik all about?

Qlik is an analytics platform that enables customers to draw data together from any source in, or even external to, an organisation and create analytical applications that enables it to find insight, to discover trends and things that are happening in their organisation that could support improvements in performance or reductions in cost.

My role is actually covering the public sector and healthcare; within the UK, we work with more than 100 NHS organisations helping them do just that, a lot of the big acute hospitals and many of the commissioners and mental health primary care organisations in particular. We're originally a Swedish company.

So you see data as important, but I don't think you mean patient data but more internal data - data in these sense of operational Business Intelligence (BI)?

Absolutely. There are two angles to this, as you say. From our perspective, if you think of a typical hospital, they are recording patient data, supplies data, procurement and workforce data; there are typically 30 or more systems within a hospital that are recording data day in, day out and a small part of that is patient data.

What we try and do is to give them the ability to link all of that together and support their ability to uncover insight in the whole story, if you like, rather than just one particular element, which could mean that they could find bottlenecks in processes, they could uncover variation in the way across that clinicians treat patients, best practice that can be rolled out the organisation. It is really giving them that whole story view across all of those systems. Historically, they are typically recorded in silos. So they have looked at workforce or they have looked at patients and activity. What they haven't done so much as looked at the whole picture, which gives them that ability to link a decision made on one side to the outcomes, be it financial or otherwise.

For example, an area where the NHS has started this focus is around clinical variation. I have mentioned that already. In simple terms that is trying to uncover unnecessary variation in the way that clinicians treat patients with certain procedures or conditions. So, if you go in and have a need replacement procedure in one hospital, do you receive the same quality of care and the same outcomes if you go to any other hospital within the NHS?

What has been a challenge in that is trying to uncover, not just the financial outcome or the cost of the care, but also the length of stay of the patient, the number of remissions, the quality of that procedure and whether they have to come in and have additional care afterwards. I think what the NHS is trying to do now is really understand where that variation exists and how to remove the unnecessary or unwarranted variations from the system. And, in doing so, they can standardise the way that patients are treated and they can remove unnecessary bed nights in hospital and reduce the length of stay and reduce the cost and improve the quality all in one go. There has been a whole host of reports on this, but certainly in experience that I have seen with QLIK, that ability to uncover unnecessary variation and remove that from the system has been tremendously powerful and improved quality and cost in both ways. What East Kent has done is to use our software, for instance to analyse historical patterns through A&E. That means administrators are now able to then predict when they are likely to preach the waiting time limits and become alerted to that fact in real-time so they can put the right staff in the department to reduce the risk of them preaching the waiting limit.

Great. To close for today, David, in the light of the Spending Review, have you got any thoughts about the future direction of technology in the NHS?

From the experience that we have had working with the NHS, the opportunity to use data on a more national scale and really understand where data can support in decision-making to improve quality of care and outcomes is critical. And some of the national programmes that are underway,, for example, when it gets off the ground, will have a big impact on the ability to do that.

And that, in reality we have seen it in smaller cases where it can certainly improve quality, but also reduce cost. The key in the NHS now is doing both of those things to maximise the impact of the money that is available.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens

(c) 2015