Balancing the human and technical in the healthcare industry

Sean Price, EMEA solutions director, public sector and healthcare, Qlik discusses the importance of the human factor when it comes to optimising healthcare systems.

Picture this – it’s a busy Christmas in 2009 and at a local hospital, pressure is building on staff with the volume of patients and ambulances stacking up. Fast forward 10 years and demand has increased by around 30% in that period, according to NHS Digital. However, the tools that employees are equipped with have become more advanced in line with this, largely due to the increased availability of information. Whether in the NHS or private healthcare organisations, data-led initiatives are driving improved patient care. The role of technology is only set to increase, given the content of the government’s Long Term Plan announced earlier this year, which has mandated that all NHS organisations must have a CIO in place by 2022.

However, those occupying this leadership role will need to ensure that the conversation is lifted out of the technical, elevating the status of data to become a critical strategic imperative. After all, beyond access to faster, more accurate information, intelligent data practices have a role to play in shaping the working practices of staff. For example, if used correctly, data has the potential to influence the physical layout of hospitals and ways in which employees interact with each other.

The role of real-time

One of the key developments impacting the evolution of working practices is the availability of data in real-time across various areas of the healthcare ecosystem. Whether monitoring patient flow through a hospital, or actual ambulance thoroughfare versus predicted volumes, access to this type of data as early as possible allows staff to act upon it live and in the moment, improving service provision and ultimately patient satisfaction. With regards to the latter, real-time data can also be used to give patients updates on criteria such as bed status and wait times on screens in waiting rooms. While these tend to be confined to hospital leadership at present, in the future we will see this adopted in more of a public-facing role, to improve transparency.

Beyond enhancing working practices in hospitals and trusts themselves, healthcare staff can also use analytics to support the monitoring of patients in their own homes. For example, they will receive alerts from patients with certain conditions when their heart rate increases, have missed appointments that should have been attended in person, or neglected to submit results of self-administered tests. Conversely, live monitoring of conditions can help staff assess the risk associated with a patient. Based on factors like ambulance volume and bed status, patients that are not at significant risk can be advised that they do not need to travel to hospital, reducing the waste caused by no-shows.

Merging the technical and physical

Although real-time data has a variety of applications, the best healthcare organisations adapt their physical working practices based on the available data. This involves a crucial balancing act between the human and technical factors, to not only ensure that work is being done as efficiently as possible but to nurture the right culture.

For example, Morecambe Bay University Hospital Trust has developed a command centre structure, providing the lynchpin for how resources are shifted. From the emergency department status to inpatients ready for discharge, the hub has been designed to give a tangible physical flow of information to make operations throughout the patient journey more efficient. As a result, any employee from leadership to clinicians at the coal face can consume the data easily. With this new structure, the Morecambe Bay team holds short, focused, evidence-based staff meetings regularly throughout the day to get updates using live data.

Such transparency of information and the availability of analytics to process it also contribute to enhancing healthcare employees’ ability to work with data, improving their data literacy and giving them the means to thrive in an increasingly digital environment. Data-savvy organisations in the industry that are looking to adapt their workflows based on available data should first ensure that they get feedback from operational and clinical staff just as much as the IT team, to make sure that any results from changes to such a dynamic working environment can be maximised.

There are several factors that have contributed to the evolution of working practices in the healthcare industry, such as demand for collaboration between departments, particularly in the NHS which has traditionally been very siloed. However, the omnipresence of data has proved to be the most important catalyst, evolving from the muse of the IT team to something which has a concrete and tangible impact on how staff go about their daily working lives. By merging human and technical factors with immersive tools that allow healthcare workers to integrate data into their decision making, the industry can relieve some of the pressure on it by ensuring staff at all levels are equipped to respond to whatever is thrown at them.


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