“Humans are messy, and therefore data about humans is itself messy” - A conversation with MBI Healthcare Technologies on the importance of quality data and data management systems in healthcare

Distilled Post Editorial Team

Reflecting on the success of the NHS Executive Strategy Summit in early November, Distilled  Post spoke with Barry Mulholland and Jason Roberts. Barry is a partner at MBI Healthcare  Technologies with experience of operational roles within the NHS previously, and Jason is the  Director of Sales and Business Development at MBI. Both were present at the Summit with  MBI, who deploy cutting-edge technology to ensure the quality of healthcare data and  have collaborated frequently with the NHS. 

Barry began by offering a commentary on the critical challenges facing the NHS this winter,  from a data perspective. “We’re in a situation where we’ve got stretched resources  everywhere”, he began. “One of the biggest challenges in terms of the workforce is a  shortage of analysts… if your data is not what we might call healthy, you're always going to  struggle to make the right decisions - especially when resources are tight, and every decision  counts from a financial point of view.” 

He alluded to other disruptions exacerbating workforce shortages, including the elective  care backlog, the ambiguity surrounding the incoming centrally procured data platform  (known as the Federated Data Platform or FDP) and increased demand in Emergency  Departments over the winter months. In the light of these additional disruptions, Barry  surmised that “NHS operations colleagues haven’t really got the time for piloting things and  trying out new solutions”. In order to meet these critical challenges in the short term, he  emphasised the need for experience in the NHS environment and particularly in healthcare data - “we have to wrap expertise round an already stretched resource”. 

The conversation shifted to the obstacles standing in the way of high quality health data.  Jason saw one key problem as being the method by which waiting lists are constructed, with  data derived from EPR (Electronic Patient Record) systems. However, clinicians rarely look at  EPR data when establishing a context for a patient - they are far more likely to go to the last  patient letter or clinical documentation. This kind of data is not reflected in waiting lists, as these clinical sources tend to be unstructured.  

The problem is underscored by what Jason identified as “a partial view of demand”, with  uneven coverage of data: while certain areas such as cancer waiting lists or Referral to  Treatment (RTT) waiting lists are measured, “there’s a lot of it that isn’t measured and isn’t  properly understood. And that hampers plans all the time.” Barry added that invariably,  health data can be messy - “because humans are messy, and therefore the data about  humans is itself messy”. Messy data is further compounded by the number of disparate  systems over which information is supposed to be shared, all of which talk to each other to  wildly varying degrees. Additionally, he referenced EPR implementations as adding a burden  to staff workloads of entering extra data, with no clearly defined roles to do this. 

The discussion made it abundantly clear that solutions are desperately needed to some of  these pressing issues surrounding data management and insights. As Barry said, “it’s almost  impossible to fix unless you can see the full picture - and very few organisations have got that  full picture at the moment”. MBI Healthcare Technologies’ array of digital solutions enables  clinicians greater insights and ultimately leads to better decision making. In a word, it’s  “safety”, as Barry said. He referenced numerous incidents of certain groups of patients  receiving attention at the expense of other groups. “The first thing our solution brings is an  overview of everybody who's waiting and what the risk is around those patients. That allows  you to prioritise better which patients to see and when”. Flowing from improved safety 

standards is an increased ability to plan well: “Once you’re able to know and see all of the  various competing demands for your finite capacity, you can start to plan it better”. He  pointed towards the significant financial benefits too, with huge amounts of time and money  currently being spent on “armies of people” who search through patient records to ascertain  what is going on with a particular patient. By supporting this process, MBI are also relieving  the pressure on staff by shaving the time required to work out what patients need. 

The conversation ended with some reflections from Barry and Jason on the success of  November’s NHS Executive Strategy Summit event, organised by Meet Health Events and  Proud2bOps. “There is so much common ground”, Jason commented. “The challenge of  getting a full picture, that’s universal across the system… And the idea that we should be  doing things manually, I think there was a widespread recognition that the time is up on that  perspective”. “And I think everybody recognised at the event that simply putting fancy  technology on top of data that isn’t accurate will just provide expensive and ineffective  solutions… We need to do something about all the data that’s going into this new  technology”, Barry added. “You have to give full credit to the Summit, for creating a space  where people feel safe to raise those concerns”. 

The NHS Executive Strategy Summit was held on the 7th of November in London, organised  by Meet Health Events and Proud2bOps. 

To learn more about the event, visit: https://www.meethealthevents.com/nhs-executive strategy-summit-ness-2023