Comment: Hospitals of the future must be underpinned by data

Adam Mayer, senior manager at Qlik, discusses the important role that data will play in the hospitals of the future

In healthcare, data is the lifeblood that underpins patient care pathways and process optimisation

Last year the Government in pledged to build 40 new hospitals at a cost of £3.7billion.

But Lord Wolfson, founder of the Wolfson Economics Prize, believes this investment is not enough and that ‘we need new ideas’.

And that is why, in November this year, he will award a prize of £250,000 for the best ideas to improve patient care.

The challenge for participants is to come up with an idea about how they would ‘design and plan new hospitals to radically improve patient experiences, clinical outcomes, staff wellbeing, and integration with wider health and social care’.

This is a fantastic initiative to ensure that the investments made today will serve the health service for decades to come.

For those looking to participate, one key element that must be part of any proposal is data.

In healthcare, data is now the lifeblood that underpins everything from informing analysis and patient care pathways, to optimising processes and improving the experience of our key healthcare workers.

To this end, the ‘hospital of the future’ will rely on greater volumes of data being created that must be used to constantly inform and improve processes and services.

In healthcare, data is now the lifeblood that underpins everything from informing analysis and patient care pathways, to optimising processes and improving the experience of our key healthcare workers

And, to ensure future hospital designs don’t become a stagnant ideal that is outdated within 25 years; we must harness the continuously-evolving nature of data to keep learning, improving, and driving better care and connected services.

However, the health service isn’t starting from scratch when it comes to its use of data.

Indeed, some NHS trusts are already putting data at the heart of their operations to optimise service delivery and improve patient care.

Adam Mayer

And successful applicants can learn a lot from these beacons of best practice as we look towards the next generations of hospitals.

The NHS data leaders

The potential for data and analytics to transform the healthcare industry is massive.

In fact, a study last year by Qlik in partnership with IDC, found that 73% of healthcare organisations said operational efficiencies improved as a result of investments in data management and analytics.

Leading industry innovators are identifying new ways to put data at the heart of the decision-making process in hospitals.

For example, at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust’s Royal Lancaster Infirmary site, the team developed a cutting-edge Analytical Command Centre in its emergency department.

Through a number of interactive screens which present real-time analysis of capacity and demand, including the number of ambulances on the way to the hospital and availability of beds, it allows the team to continuously assess resources against demand.

This is particularly useful for predicting when surges may occur, which subsequently helps the team to optimise the patient experience.

And the results speak for themselves, as the emergency department has reduced delays and increased the percentage of patients triaged within 15 minutes from 65%-95%.

Investing throughout the analytics data pipeline to ensure real-time, hyper-contextual insights inform decisions in the moment will help healthcare organisations achieve a new level of active intelligence

Another great example is Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where empowering the patient flow manager to easily capture data on the number of patients awaiting discharge across different wards with ease, enabled the team to conduct analysis that identified common bottlenecks in the process.

As a result of this, MRI scan waiting times have been reduced from 10 days to just two.

These are just two great examples of how healthcare organisations have benefited from increasing their use of analytics to make faster and more-informed decisions.

But the uses are endless, and many new data applications were spun up in response to the COVID-19 crisis to help health services respond to the heightened demand for services.

Indeed, Freedom of Information data sourced by Qlik found 84% of NHS trusts used data analytics to manage their initial response.

And more than half (55%) of trusts applied analytics to track positive infections of patients, while 22% used analytics to identify potential staff exposure to the virus and to inform testing regimes.

This real-time analysis was critical in helping many organisations understand and manage the COVID-19 risk to other patients and staff.

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust’s Royal Lancaster Infirmary site uses a cutting-edge Analytical Command Centre in its emergency department to reduce delays and help triage patients

The untapped potential of data

These best-practice examples should be taken into consideration when designing future hospitals.

However, there is still a lot of untapped potential of data in healthcare, which should also be taken into account.

Here are three key areas which must be considered.

  • Advanced analytics and Machine Learning: There is a massive opportunity for the use of predictive analytics and forecasting to help health services manage resource and demand, such as being able to forecast a patient’s risk of re-admittance. This subsequently helps plan for the ‘unscheduled demand’, as well as the resources needed to deliver any additional care. At University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust the team is currently developing a solution to this challenge, which integrates autonomous machine learning capabilities into the analytics application stack so that the Analytical Command Centre can provide a daily prediction for readmittance
  • Population health: Another important consideration is around the requirement for connecting the data of different healthcare organisations to support a population health model. Sustainability of the health service in the long term will rely on moving many health and care services into the community, especially when it comes to reducing the dependence on emergency departments for primary care. However, there are two significant roadblocks to achieving this. The first is that the majority of analytics solutions currently deployed by NHS trusts are not currently capable of identifying population health patterns (60%). Organisations, therefore, need analytical solutions that combine real-time analysis with hyper-contextual data to inform holistic population healthcare programmes. The second challenge is data integration. For a truly-joined-up population health approach, trusts will need to integrate data from different sources in near-real time and replicate it into different systems, all so that organisations can access it in the moment. And traditional integration processes that rely on batch uploads just aren’t cut out for this shared data model
  • Cloud-based analytics: Healthcare providers can’t expect their medical experts to sit behind a computer to take advantage of digital services. Solutions need to be easily consumable anywhere, at any time, and on any device. Some NHS trusts already offer this through the use of VPNs. However, cloud-based solutions provide a simpler and more-seamless approach that skips laborious sign-in process so that information can be accessed in the moment when the decision is made. Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s rollout of cloud-based analytics is set to improve information sharing with other health and care to support a more-joined-up response in every situation, all within a governed framework that assures data security

Giving data a pulse, and making it the heartbeat of the organisation, will ultimately create a strong foundation in future hospital designs.

From the latest technological developments that leverage powerful forecasting and the IoT, to the important decisions made every day by healthcare professionals to deliver consistently high-quality care; data enables hospitals to continuously optimise and improve service delivery.

Investing throughout the analytics data pipeline to ensure real-time, hyper-contextual insights inform decisions in the moment will help healthcare organisations achieve a new level of active intelligence.

And this approach will ultimately empower hospitals, and the individuals that work tirelessly within them, to drive greater operational efficiencies and improve the patient experience - a critical feature of successful hospital design in the future.

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