Why health organisations should act NOW to realise the value of data

Data is everywhere. With 50 billion internet connected devices, 44 zettabytes of data that has been produced and with figures for data volumes only increasing, it is becoming impossible to comprehend the amount of data around us. If we are unable to understand the sheer amount of circulating data, the question falls to organisations, do they understand their own data?

For organisations, data may be seen as both structured and unstructured. Structured data formats refer to numbers and basic text, quantitative data, whereas unstructured data can be formatted in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from pictures to audio and video to text heavy, social media posts and qualitative data. Although you may think structured data accounts for a large proportion of data produced, in fact, sources believe unstructured data takes up almost 90% of the daily data produced, measured by volume. Year on year, unstructured data is growing at a considerable rate.

 

90% ofDaily data produced is unstructured.

 

So, with this almost exponential growth, it’s never been more important for businesses to act on their data, and act fast. But what can all this data do for UK health organisations?

Well, it turns out there is a great deal of value hidden away in unstructured data, you just need to know how to unlock it. A great example of this is with social media posts.

There are millions of posts made each day. They contain a range of opinions, topics and discussions, all conveyed in text form. Without the ability to analyse such data, they remain valuable insights individually but present a chaotic noise as a whole.

By categorising and analysing unstructured data, businesses can drive extra value and improve performance. Although this seems simple, there are a whole array of challenges that face analysing unstructured data, which we will explore further.

 

 

Health is driven by data.

The UK Health Sector is one heavily influenced by data; a good digital strategy can transform healthcare provision and research, through improvements and efficiencies in, for example, data aggregation, analytics, forecasting and provisioning. Why is data so important in Health?

Data is clearly important in every sector and for every organisation. In Health the impacts are perhaps amplified by the very human outcomes of investment. Health and Social Care organisations strive to continuously improve patient outcomes, it is the goal of these organisations and of high value to their collective stakeholders.

The pandemic, which has affected all organisations globally, had driven a rapid spike in digitisation and digitalisation. This change has enabled a much reduced process time, from collection, through processing and aggregation to analytics and reporting. Such progress presents challenges of their own in all areas of data governance.

Currently, in the health sector as much as 80% of healthcare data is unstructured, in the form of electronic health records (EHRs), and of that, much of the value is ‘untapped’. Though ‘national data repository’ fantasies are now moving closer to reality, such as shown in the GAIA-X project, organisations should start by looking inward at what they already have. As, in fact, healthcare organisations have the potential to derive tremendous value from the data they currently have. The analysis of historical data can shine a light on past trends to be used to predict illnesses or diseases, using it to predict and prevent patient problems at an earlier stage of diagnosis. With data analytics, healthcare organisations can significantly improve the quality of treatments that patients receive, thus bettering quality of life.

 

80% of Healthcare Data is Unstructured

 

Furthermore, data analytics can be used to spot outbreaks in pandemics and epidemics. Consumer trends can be analysed to predict where the breakouts are happing, giving doctors and emergency services in the area time to prepare. The COVID-19 outbreak is a great example of how effective data analytics can be in tracking and managing outbreaks, if utilised and leveraged correctly. The response to the pandemic in countries such as Singapore showcase the value of data. Though somewhat attributable to other factors, such as authoritative decision making and previous epidemic experience, use of data and analytics have kept cases and deaths low in the country.

Governments and healthcare trusts are using tracking applications like Track and Trace and Google Maps to track the spread of infection. Data analysis can show where COVID-19 outbreaks are happening, allowing the government to step in and implement appropriate measures, such as lockdowns, localised lockdowns, self-isolations and testing. In these cases, data analytics is not only protecting the individual, but entire communities.

 

The challenge of enabling data.

Data is a regularly discussed subject in health. With the immense promise comes equally immense challenge, and perhaps the most prominent and obvious is the need for a sector-wide digital transformation. Putting the building blocks in place for organisations to extract the most from their data, and to enable safe data sharing. But before anything else, let us ask ourselves, why are these challenges appearing in the first place?

When you begin to investigate, the data story it becomes clear. With 223 trusts in the UK, information is completely scattered. Much like a toddler who wants a specific toy but is unsure what room they left it in, information can be hard to find, especially when all of the rooms are separated by hallways and doors.

The lack of interoperability between systems means that it’s often hard for data to be analysed. The restricted usability of this data acts as a hinderance to healthcare organisations pursuing their data aspirations.

Additionally, the sheer amount of data is another problem to the health sector. Patient data is growing from a range of sources; from EHR records, to wearables such as fitness bands and smart watches that track health and fitness to online patient services. The problem is getting to the point that some health organisations simply don’t know what to do with all of this data; the inconceivable size makes it a behemothic and almost unthinkable task. Healthcare organisations are taking the option of the ‘do nothing’ approach. With so much value left untapped, this is a recipe for disaster, and though in the short run it may be feasible, it could be damaging and a missed opportunity in the long run.

Most, if not all healthcare organisations want to be able to derive better value from their data, however, they simply don’t have the appropriate skills and experience to develop their digital maturity. The healthcare effort requires a synthesis of front-line doctors and nurses, as well as capable digital operations personnel to ensure success and optimisation of patient outcomes.

Only 30% of digital transformation projects end in success, and many transformation projects fail due to skills and capability shortages. Healthcare organisations have to be careful not to build up ‘technical debt’, or an opportunity cost from not successfully completing their digital transformation projects, something that is already plaguing many across healthcare, and the wider public sector. Generating a large technical debt is seriously harmful in the long-term, from a cost perspective, but also in stifling future transformation and causing inertia. Technical debt causes wastage, especially if IT staff have to go back to the project, or if things go wrong as a result of lack of resources. These are just a few of the reasons healthcare organisations are hesitant to take the first step towards a data-first future.

 

30% of Digital transformation projects end in success.

 

What does the future of data look like?

With all the challenges, it can seem like the light at the end of the tunnel is almost too far to reach. How can healthcare companies achieve their data utopia?

Ultimately, knowledge, effective investment and cultural change is the way to successfully enable digital and data transformation, however, this isn’t something that can happen overnight. So, what are the first steps and quick wins that the health sector can take?

 

  1. Develop a culture of data driven decision making.

Organisations can start their digital transformation by developing a culture of data driven decision making. This means creating an environment in which everyone uses data as evidence for their actions. In this case, all employees would be encouraged to contribute and suggest ideas based on their own data findings. For a NHS Trust, this could mean that a nurse enables themselves to make more informed decisions on a patient’s treatment. This would be extremely valuable, as the culture for data driven patient care across the whole organisation would propel care for individuals.

 

  1. Have appropriate access to data.

To install the culture of data driven decision making, organisations must provide the necessary data to the right people in an organisation. All staff need to have access to the most up to date information, thus driving the data enabled culture. With data readily available, it will be easier for primary care staff, for example, to be able to make data informed decisions, in turn, improving the care they’re able to give patients.

 

  1. Staff need the right data tools for the job.

Having the right data tools is a huge topic for another article, however, having the right tools can allow for greater efficiency in decision making. Data tools should be selected in harmony with patient goals and outcomes, therefore, they should make it easy to find patient information, then be used to efficiently analyse their data to find the best outcome. With the combination of the data tool training, staff will be equipped to achieve a data driven culture, where patient outcomes are the key focus.

 

How data can be successfully enabled.

Having tackled the digital foundation issues troubling the health sector, we can begin to look at the process of how data can be successfully enabled. Although we have discussed installing a data driven culture and having the correct tooling, these factors are a high-level overview of how the use of data can be enabled.

It’s crucial that organisations coordinate better data use, and data enablement into business plans and strategies to undergo change.

One of the most articulated methods to complete a data transformation project is to use a data governance framework. Data governance concerns itself with managing the process of the availability, usability, integrity and security of data; it fundamentally looks at who has authority and control of data assets and how the data assets can be used.

One way to improve data governance is to establish a data governance framework to gain a holistic approach to data. At UKCloud, we use our Data Governance Maturity Framework to consider:

  • Governance and enablement – planning, requirements, and strategy.
  • Locate and minimise – decision making, cost and risk control, compliance management.
  • Search and analyse– eDiscovery, analytics, and search.
  • Monitor and control – usage, access, security, and processes.
  • Protect and recover – business continuity, disaster recovery, and data protection.

Implementing a framework provides a foundation for data governance and ensures all parts of your organisation are pushing in the same direction – handling the data correctly. Data is valuable, but it also requires careful management. Mistakes can lead to a loss of potential value, but also to compliance issues.

It’s important that organisations take their data governance seriously.

Data governance aims to verify a list of responsibilities and processes to promote the use of data. The list above allows organisations to plan a strategy for data in order to make data secure, compliant, standardised and available to all. By successfully following a framework, healthcare organisations can minimise the risk when enabling their data, set out rules and internal regulations to ensure compliance, reduce the cost of inadequately stored and managed data and ultimately, increase the value driven from data.

For healthcare trusts with limited budgets, the opportunity to reduce costs whilst increasing the value of their data is remarkable.

 

Implementing a framework provides a foundation for data governance. Data is valuable, but it also requires careful management. Mistakes can lead to a loss of potential value, but also to compliance issues.

 

It’s important that organisations take their data governance seriously.

Data governance aims to verify a list of responsibilities and processes to promote the use of data. The list above allows organisations to plan a strategy for data in order to make data secure, compliant, standardised and available to all. By successfully following a framework, healthcare organisations can minimise the risk when enabling their data, set out rules and internal regulations to ensure compliance, reduce the cost of inadequately stored and managed data and ultimately, increase the value driven from data.

For healthcare trusts with limited budgets, the opportunity to reduce costs whilst increasing the value of their data is remarkable.

 

Successful implementation and future proofing.

By gaining an understanding of their data, organisations can define goals and a roadmap for what senior leaders want from their data. Building a strong business plan for the data driven digital transformation journey is crucial to gaining the support from stakeholders. Once the project has been accepted, healthcare organisations can begin to develop and implement their data governance program. From there, the only job left to do is to monitor and control the data, allowing it to be accessed by the right people and allowing for value to be driven from the data.

Health organisations can do this themselves as discussed before, however, having the right person for the job is key, especially when it comes to digital adoption, implementation, management and innovation.

One option for the health sector would be to reach out to third party companies, who specialise in data assessments and digital transformation. More specifically, those who have cloud consultants or strategic advisors.

Whatever your organisation’s level of data maturity and understanding, one thing is clear: it’s a challenge that cannot be ignored. If organisations want to deliver better public services and save lives they must know where their data is, store it appropriately and ultimately look to use the tools to exploit and drive value from it. This is not a job that can be done alone, business will need the support and guidance of those closest to data to extract its value; it’s a job that must start today.

Here at UKCloud, we pride ourselves as multi-cloud experts and as public sector cloud advisors, above all else, our goal is to aid in progressing the digital maturity of the UK public sector. This is achieved through our Professional Services team who consult those undergoing a digital transformation and planning a digital strategy.

 

Here at UKCloud Health, our goal is to aid in progressing the digital maturity of Health and Social Care.

 

Our team can advise your organisation and work alongside you to help you meet your goals. The team start with a data assessment, helping you realise what state your data is in. They then work with you to create a compelling business plan to present to your stakeholders, which included an in-depth TCO analysis, to bolster any assertions. You can find one that was carried out before for an educational body.

For more details on our Professional Services and what we could do for you, click here or get in touch with us on 01252 303 300. Also, have a read of our recent State of Digital Data in the UK public sector report, completely free and there’s no forms to fill out.