Colin Rees on moving from information to action when it comes to using data as a tool 


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If you have a smoke alarm fitted in your home and have the misfortune of it alerting you in the middle of the night; do you A: Listen to the annoying high-pitched tone and go back to sleep or B: explore the cause and, if required, lead the charge to safety?

Of course it’s B, right?

Well, in this hypothetical domestic setting yes, but let’s stretch the analogy to data and information within the NHS being the smoke alarm. The data is regularly screaming its high-pitched tone “something’s wrong”, yet we often find the operational equivalent of “going back to sleep”!

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We have recently presented at the HSJ Summit on the ability to accurately predict demand and capacity in an acute setting. Many in the audience were using a predictor: it gave them a single daily number identifying how busy it would be and it was, on average, 50 per cent accurate. However, when asked ”how many of your predictive tools tell you how to deal with the problem”, the answer was zero. 

The NHS is nothing if not data rich. Today, there is no excuse for any clinical commissioning group to not have a real time, whole system, single version of the truth, their own real time fire prevention system. So why are we continuing to act as fire fighters and how do we shift from fire fighting to fire prevention? From information to action?

1.The start of this journey is to ask ourselves do we have great data in real time? Clarity on what is a mission critical data set for every organisation across a health economy? Is it easily understood and accessible by all who need to see and use it, today most likely via an App?

2. Creating an ”agreed single version of the truth” is the next step. As one CCG AO said in an interview with the Behavioural Insights Team, “Once you have a single version of the truth, you stop arguing about the accuracy of the data and start arguing about what you do about it”. This takes time and a cultural shift. As a health system, we have to agree that sharing data is a good thing and not just a stick to beat people with. As we move to the acronym soup of ICSs, STPs and super merged CCGs, collaboration on the development of actions that work across health and social care becomes even more important.

3. Using information to drive actions takes time, cooperation, collaboration and trust. It supports continuous improvement, you can game and model any scenario, the tested response when triggered, requires no delaying escalation. Once embedded, it can be a system operating on its best day, every day! It’s a digital trigger with agreed role-based actions, that has an inbuilt, real time audit trail.

Transforming Systems has built with NHS partners, SHREWD Resilience a totally interoperable data collection and intelligence sharing platform that helps CCGs create a real time, whole system, single version of the truth. SHREWD Escalation empowers the front line and operational management via a series of co-designed and pre planned “nudges” to simply get on and do their job. Building cross agency actions helps develop whole system, pre-planned mutual aid. In short, when both systems are combined this helps turn information into action, a genuine real time, action based, fire prevention system for the NHS and social care!