Using data to improve patient safety and efficiency of care

In all areas of life, data is a powerful tool that helps us make decisions about choices we make and where changes are needed.

Data Network

In all areas of life, data is a powerful tool that helps us make decisions about choices we make and where changes are needed. As an everyday example, most modern cars now accurately track fuel consumption (often in real time), allowing drivers to see the difference their driving style has and to modify their driving to tweak efficiency.

Real time information about fuel consumption rates is also useful got identifying if there is a bigger problem; a sudden change might indicate a problem with the engine and prompt a visit to the garage. In an area as complex and dynamic as modern healthcare delivery, ensuring that meaningful and accurate data is recorded, collected and used to monitor safety and efficiency is vital.

In the absence of this, poor practice and increased risk to patients may go undetected. Furthermore, healthcare professionals and organisations are unable to benchmark their performance against others and miss out on opportunities and insights to improve.

Getting it right first time
Healthcare systems around the world are recognising that collecting meaningful, comparable data and creating mechanisms to share and benchmark performance with others is a powerful lever for safety and efficiency improvement.

In the UK, the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme has been established with these exact principles in mind. The programme ensures that accurate outcome data is collected covering various clinical specialities. The national data can then be used to identify variations and this information is shared confidentially with those involved in delivering the services – including clinicians, medical directors, managers and chief executives.

Data for local improvement
National work to help organisations benchmark their safety and performance data and identify opportunities for improvement has huge potential to drive up standards across the system. In the future, new technology is likely to play an important role in helping organisations share and benchmark safety and performance data both nationally and internationally.

In addition, all healthcare organisations should have systems in place to monitor their own safety performance; ensuring they are sensitive and responsive to emergent problems and that decisions at all levels of the organisation are guided and informed by accurate and meaningful data. This should include:

  • Data from incident and near miss reporting, in the context of a culture that encourages open reporting.
  • Data from the analysis of complaints and patient feedback.
  • The collection and analysis of carefully designed key outcome and performance metrics in specific services and clinical areas (where possible confirming to nationally agreed standards) – crucially these should include leading indicators that help identify potential issues before patient harm occurs.
  • Data from staff surveys and safety culture checks.
  • Data from clinical audits.
  • The findings of patient safety investigation reports and reviews

All this data needs to be viewed and analysed together, so that the organisations and staff have a holistic understanding of their patient safety performance that moves beyond simply responding to error and harm, to being pre-emptive and sensitive to emerging risks.

This safety and performance data should be made available to all staff, so it can be easily accessed at an individual service level.

The future role of data analytics
In the future, data captured from more advanced methods of data analytics, making better use of existing electronic clinical data sources will also play an important role. The use of AI algorithms and machine learning to automatically analyse Electronic Health Records (EHR) has huge potential, both to highlight opportunities to learn from incidents or issues that might not have been otherwise picked up and to assist in real time clinical decision making. For example, earlier detection of deteriorating patients, sepsis or red flagging of medication errors.

New tools and technology have the potential to help healthcare organisations collect, analyse and make better use of all these sources of safety and performance data, ensuring that an organisation’s improvement efforts are focused on the right areas, that variation in safety performance is highlighted in real time (before patients come to harm) and through sharing data across the system, help create opportunities to learn from other organisations and the strategies and solutions they have put in place.