Delivering better patient care through data

The power of data

One of the biggest challenges facing the NHS is data.  The NHS has lots of it but has historically not been great at using it.  Yet it is a challenge that must be overcome as data is critical to the healthcare system in providing safer and more effective care; overcoming operational issues; understanding disease and improving diagnoses.  We only have to consider the Covid-19 pandemic to see what an important role data has played in terms of track & trace to contain the spread.  84% of trusts reported that analytics have played a key role in supporting patient care and operations during the pandemic.  (Qlik research)


Most trusts have been investing in data analytics over the last few years but many are suggesting that now is the time to ramp things up a level and build on recent successes in wider areas of the NHS.

The hurdles

With a large, fragmented and complex array of IT systems across GP surgeries, care homes, pharmacies and community care, the efficient use of information is difficult and has hindered digital transformation in the healthcare sector.  With renewed momentum gained by the pandemic recently, the tide may have turned for the long term. 

Streamlining data and more accurate data will be key to enabling healthcare providers to identify trends helping them in turn with better insights into treatments and preventions.

How can data improve patient care?

Data plays a role not just in improving every individual’s care but also in its widest sense, brings benefits to healthcare systems, healthcare providers, and to medical research. 

With up to date health data comes more efficient, higher quality, safer and more personalised care.  Insights can have an immediate impact on patient care where data are provided to frontline staff in real time, enabling them to make the most appropriate decisions whilst on the job.

In the words of Rob O’Neill, Head of Information at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT). “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.”

For organisations, better data can speed up diagnosis, identify pathways in disease transmission, predict outcomes and improve the effectiveness of treatments and improve the quality and safety of treatments. 

Where medical research is concerned, health data can support the development of new treatments and devices such as a new drug for cancer or a smart monitoring system for patients monitoring their blood measurements. 

There are so many examples of data improving healthcare.  Here are just a few;

  • Using surveillance data to justify vaccinating children against flu
  • Learning more about blood cancer using data from thousands of patients to understand how it can be better diagnosed and treated
  • Improving the management of chronic kidney disease through an alert system. 
  • A screening tool that uses patient data to help doctors to work out the chances of someone with back pain going on to develop a disability.
  • A computer algorithm which is as effective as human radiologists in spotting breast cancer from xray images.

The keys to success

The value of data driven decision-making and the opportunity for a huge return on investment is clear.  If you also consider the impact of ageing populations and the prevalence of chronic disease, healthcare systems are being increasingly challenged, and with budgets under strain it is clearly vital to support innovation in new technology, data and AI, to help ensure the future transformation of the NHS.