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The AHSN Network’s new Digital & AI report: ‘Lessons and Legacy from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Health and Care’ as part of the NHS Reset Campaign highlights key findings from a research study to understand how technology has helped reduce the care burden during the pandemic, and to identify what should be sustained in the ‘new normal’ longer-term.

The findings highlight the importance of treating health as our greatest national asset to nurture and protect, with preventative health requiring more attention in the long-term. James Teo, Clinical Director of Data Science at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, was involved in the study and shares his thoughts:

COVID-19 has highlighted the critical nature of the timeliness of health data especially in a fast-moving pandemic. Everyone can now perceive that analytics at quarterly, monthly or weekly cycles will not be adequate for driving population health or decision-making. Analytics to drive decision-making has to occur in near-real-time at the front-line to be actionable and have any impact. However there are risks that the newly recognised need and urgency overwhelms strategic vision.

One key aspect is the central foundation of good quality interoperable data. Data will have to cross organisations, and the standardisation of data formats are going to be the key to doing anything beyond the scale of a single organisation. Data and systems standardisation is often perceived as boring, abstract and too technical for frontline staff; the real risk is that the hunger for more digital solutions will result in data balkanisation with multiplicity of incongruous data silo’s and non-integrated systems. We can expect that none of these systems will last a decade unchanged, so we need to plan for health data that is agile and not-locked to the underlying system.

The other risk is that in the hunger for more digital systems and data, we end up reducing healthcare to form-filling and taking people away from delivering healthcare. Often in healthcare, when faced with a problem, a form (or ‘proforma’) is suggested as the means for solving a problem to allow data collection. Likewise patients balk at the prospect of repetitive form-filling (whether paper or web-based) to receive healthcare. We already balk at repeatedly filling in our personal details on different e-commerce websites, imagine a scenario where every health app, health intervention and clinic needs this. My belief is both a combination of API’s and human-efficient ways to collect and standardise data will be the way forward.

How we achieve this balance between rushing for actionable analytics and cautious laying of data foundations will determine whether the future of digital healthcare will be streamlined and efficient or the future will be just as clunky and frustrating as we have today.

Find out more about the launch of the Digital & AI report.