When the NHS turned 70 years old in July, its present to the UK population was the launch of a new app, promising patients access to a range of services on-demand.
It’s not just a case of innovation for innovation’s sake. The launch is a huge opportunity for everyone to contribute to better health research, as well as improved care models and population healthcare management. The data collected through the app could have a significant impact on future treatment pathways, drug use and healthcare commissioning, as well as making healthcare significantly more accessible for vast swathes of the country.
It’s vital, however, that the NHS establishes early user adoption in the initial roll out stage, engaging with all users, whether that’s patients, clinicians, managers or ward staff. The public will be a critical component of this app, and the NHS needs their support for it to empower the service to work with data to make a difference. Anyone who is going to have value from the information that is being provided must be able to interpret and understand it, as this could be a deciding factor in their decision to opt-in versus opting out. For the NHS, this means being transparent about how they secure and use patient data, to support the development of the app and ensure the best user experience.
A data literate health service
But it’s not just patients who the NHS must engage. With the large amounts of information being collected by the app, the healthcare professionals on the other side of the interface will also need to be equipped to analyse and understand data. And unfortunately, it looks like they may not yet be equipped to do so.
After all, Qlik’s recent research found that only 13% of healthcare professionals are fully confident in their ability to read, work with, understand and analyse data (i.e. ‘data literate’). This is concerning as it means that NHS investment into new technology, such as the new app, may not be allowed to reach its full potential due to a skills shortage in the sector. In addition, more than half (55%) believe that they are having to cope with more data now than they did three years ago.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The same research also found that 88% of healthcare professionals agree that becoming more data literate would help them perform their job roles better, demonstrating that the problem is being acknowledged and recognised. Beyond it being an organisational mandate, 57% would be willing to invest more time into improving their data skillset.
Data for everyone
Despite the benefits to healthcare practitioners, the NHS is a much broader machine than the doctors, nurses and surgeons that deliver its practical service. The data collected through the app will equally empower non-medical teams, such as finance departments, to understand how treatment can be delivered more efficiently and economically, while maintaining a high-quality patient experience.
However, the app should be part of a much wider journey when it comes to digitising the NHS. Organisations that are part of the health service umbrella such as Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) have already seen first-hand the enormous advantages that harnessing data can bring them. For example, WWL uses nearly 30 different applications to support its operations, from clinical use to budget management. Prior to its adoption, WWL was struggling to cope with the number of patients they had. Now, they are one of the top 10 NHS Trusts in the country in terms of referral to treatment targets.
The launch of a patient-facing app marks an exciting time for the NHS. Despite the national narrative around the service so often focused on cost pressures, enhancing it with data will improve patient access to NHS services, while reducing the administrative burden on staff. Ultimately, data can drive powerful insights, particularly when put in those delivering patient care, but only if they are empowered with the tools and skills to do so.
Credit: David Bolton, VP Industry Solutions, Qlik, Mark Singleton, Acting Associate Director of IM&T at Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust