Healthcare director Simon Bricknell shares his thoughts on why data is vitally important for the future.

25 Jan 2022

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we think about data?

healthcare director NHS consultant

My background, before moving into healthcare improvement, was Toyota Motor Manufacturers.

It is here where I was first introduced to data.

Data to ensure safety, data to improve quality, data to drive performance, data to monitor progress, data to track cost and spend, data to incentivise, data to strive for perfection, data, data, data. I loved it!

Why had I not realised before how useful and important it was, why had I not realised that important decisions needed to be based on data (evidence) otherwise things would happen, or be changed, without knowing the “so what” question.

Why was something happening? Why isn’t this working? Why do we have a problem? Where is this heading? Will this work or not? Is this good or bad?

Data, data, data. So why did I love it? Part of me, I think, was just inquisitive about “so what does this mean or what is happening with this or that” but the other part of me realised that everything within Toyota needed data so that things could be measured, good or bad.

I then started to see how measurement (data) drives human behaviour. How a good result helps motivate and reward people while a poor result can demotivate or even threaten someone. How visualising data changes the way a person acts or reacts purely by the graph or KPI (Key Performance Indicator). Data is so powerful. Data is so dangerous.

In Healthcare, data is fundamental to making the right clinical decisions, it is fundamental to monitoring and measuring to know how things are going and it is fundamental in allowing us to move forward, adapt and improve. In my experience over the last 16 years working in the Healthcare sector the way data is used and the accuracy of some data provided needs to be better.

Too many times I hear “we do not trust the data” or “the data is too old” or “the data isn’t a true reflection of what is happening”.

I never heard that in Toyota so we need to address the issues of ownership, timeliness and accuracy which we continue to do. Remember the line about measurement and data can also drive behaviour? Well that got me thinking. It got me thinking about the importance of making people realise that data is never a “negative”.

Yes the result may be in some way a negative, like not achieving a target, but used correctly even then, if accurate and timely, you can use the data to drive positive behaviour to improve the situation so you can achieve the target.

Now where have we all seen that recently? Just on the news every day for the past two years. I can even talk to the neighbour, or a friend or even my daughter about data.

Have you seen the statistics?

Have you seen the cases?

Have you seen the trend?

Have you seen the hospitalisations?

Etc etc etc.

The public are talking about data, everyone now seems to understand data, which is now a game changer!

Now we all have an understanding, surely we can build on the pandemic and how data was / is used to report the timely status as well as driving changes in behaviour to improve?

Never ever in the history of the NHS has there been a better time or better opportunity to improve the data accuracy, data capture, data collection and timeliness to ensure safety, to improve quality, to drive performance, to monitor progress, to track cost and spend, to incentivise, to strive for perfection, and all through the use of data.

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