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Better use of data can help NHS address funding pressures, says new report

Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2014 | 10:05 am | 2 min. read

Making better use of data could help the NHS address funding restrictions and deliver improved health care to patients, according to a new report.

A report by big data solutions provider EMC for Volterra Partners, 'Sustaining Universal Healthcare in the UK: Making Better Use of Information' (registration required), said that annual savings of between £16.5 billion and £66bn could be achieved within the NHS through more widespread use of data analytics.

The report said the cost savings could be achieved if a new 'Wellness Model' was embraced within the NHS. This would see a "proactive, personalised approach" toward health care be adopted in place of a "reactive 'illness driven'" approach, it said.

"The NHS is currently considerably behind other industries in terms of its use of data analytics," the report said. "Applying experience from other industries to healthcare, we estimate that using data analytics to successfully deliver the Wellness Model, would improve the efficiency of the health care sector by between 15% and 60% resulting in total savings to the NHS of between £16.5 billion and £66 billion per year. This efficiency saving would not result in actual lower costs of the service in absolute terms, but would free up equivalent capacity of staff and resources to ensure that the quality of service provided by the NHS continues to improve, despite funding constraints."

For example, effective use of data analytics could help health care bodies prevent, diagnose and treat chronic conditions, reduce unwanted side effects to treatments and cut patient readmission rates, the report said.

The report said it was important for NHS systems to be interoperable to ensure that patient data could flow between different health care providers. It backed the digitising of medical records and the planned 'care.data' scheme.

"The NHS cannot currently maximise the potential of data analytics in healthcare due to the lack of information available on patients and a lack of data capability within NHS institutions," the report said. "There is a fundamental lack of centralised data in healthcare. On a local/health economy basis the access to, and analysis of, data is valuable but it could be even more so if national datasets could also be included."

The report also identified the benefits to the NHS of rolling out mobile technology. Encouraging patients to use mobile apps to enter details about exercise levels, calorie intake and other health factors could help doctors analyse "the links between lifestyle, drug adherence etc. and treatment effectiveness", it said.

National director for patients and information at NHS England, Tim Kelsey, said that the future of the NHS is at risk if it does not become more digital and make better use of data, according to a report by V3.co.uk.

"We have a very fragmented healthcare environment, we have some very significant financial pressures and, I think, an unstoppable tide of public appetite to make more sense of digital information," Kelsey said, according to the report. He said that just 2% of people in the UK have "engaged digitally with the NHS" even though 76% of the public use the internet regularly.

"These two interesting statistics hint that we have to embrace this future or we are very seriously going to not only be left behind, but put the NHS in real jeopardy," Kelsey said.

Kelsey has been one of the main drivers behind the planned care.data scheme. The scheme envisages the centralised storage and management of medical records from GP databases in England by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Under the scheme, the data collected by HSCIC could be shared with health care bodies, medical researchers and other groups, subject to a range of privacy safeguards and controls.

The scheme was initially set to launch earlier this year but was postponed until the autumn after a public backlash. NHS England admitted at the time that more time was needed to inform patients about the benefits of the scheme before it could be rolled out.