Knowledge transfer partnerships enable businesses and universities to work together in ways that benefit both parties.John Harrison explains how one urgent care provider has recently entered into such an alliance with Durham University

Planning and adapting to change in the long and short term is the key to running a successful organisation. Out-of-hours GP services are no exception.

The unpredictability of demand for such services means data analysis and effective resource planning are vital to providing a good service.

While we can trace patterns in call volume that can be explained by seasonal variation, such as busier times at Christmas, or higher call volume over weekends, Northern Doctors Urgent Care is trying to identify long-term trends to ensure we have sufficient resources in place.

To help us do this, NDUC has established a knowledge transfer partnership with Durham University. Through the two-year project, we hope to gain a greater understanding of patient call patterns that will allow us to respond more effectively.

Mutual gain

The partnership brings benefits to all parties. Durham University is able to work much more closely with business and the collaboration also breeds research opportunities. For example, the project will generate real-life data sets that students can work on. Modelling tools developed as part of the project will yield academic research papers.

Meanwhile, Northern Doctors Urgent Care gets the knowledge transfer and access to expertise, allowing it to focus on key areas for improvement, which should result in a more efficient and better service for patients.

We have already recruited a graduate statistician from Durham University who, supported by academic staff at the university, will use their expertise to analyse our information and spot patterns and themes. This will help us to "predict uncertainty".

Improving performance

We know our call volume varies from day to day during the week, with Saturday mornings being the busiest, but we also detect seasonal variations. However, from time to time we get unexpected spikes in the number of calls we receive. On some occasions, this can be as much as 20 per cent.

By obtaining a better understanding of how to predict these variations more accurately, we can plan our resources to work more effectively. We want to make sure we have the appropriate number of doctors and nurses to meet our patients' needs.

In recent years, demand for home visits has risen slightly and we need to investigate what is driving this. We suspect that this is probably due to the ageing population and the current policy of keeping patients at home rather than in hospitals, but it would be useful to prove this conclusively.

The knowledge transfer partnership will help us ensure our service is working to its full potential.