As every shopper or traveller knows, the best supermarkets and airlines have become expert at responding to customer feedback. They make skilful use of these data to offer services that are responsive to customer needs and are highly consistent in quality.
We are all aware of the financial and demographic pressures which our NHS faces. If we are to close the quality gap and the financial gap now facing the health service, commissioners must become far more sophisticated users of data on behalf of the populations we serve, and use the lessons from other sectors.
One of the unique strengths of our being a national health service is the completeness of our routine administrative data and the existence of a single, universal identifier: the NHS number. The Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES) dataset is the envy of the world because it contains information about every hospital admission that has occurred since 1989, covering the entire population of England and spanning every hospital provider nationwide.
Routine administrative data – it may not sound very exciting to the uninitiated – is a treasure trove of information from patients’ care episodes. It ranges from demographics to symptoms, to observations and investigations, through to diagnoses, treatments, procedures and results.
Increasingly, this information is being recorded and stored electronically rather than on paper; however, only a tiny fraction of it is currently fed into central flows of data where it can be collated and used for wider patient benefits.
Using data better has the potential to transform our health service, through exposing inefficiencies and underperformance, commissioning services more effectively, and achieving safer, more effective treatment for patients. For example, tens of millions of pounds could be saved simply by exposing variations in the use of generic versus branded medicines. As richer data become more available and more transparent, this type of analysis can be repeated with other classes of medication and medical devices, as well as with clinical procedures and other health and care services.
NHS England and our partners across the health and social care system are committed to having an open and transparent discussion about informatics including how best to invest in making improvements, and how people view the benefits, barriers and concerns.
I encourage you to join me at the debate at our Open House event on 21 January where you can discuss these issues online. Do visit the event website to find out what we’ll be talking about and share your views.