Personal health data goes to the core of who we are as people. It holds vital information about our individual health, while also offering insights into the wider trends impacting our society.
Data for one, data for all
When we create and consume personal data, we’re not only sharing insights into our uniqueness; at a macro level, we are also demonstrating our affiliation and likeness to one another. Cast your mind back to the toilet-roll crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic, or the purchase of tinned tomatoes when the UK left the EU — these examples of panic buying reveal how, on a macro level, everyone follows what everyone else does.
Similar trends affect our health and treatment requirements. During the first wave of the pandemic, for example, there was a dramatic reduction in Emergency Department attendances. While there were a number of reasons for this, including fears about catching the virus by entering healthcare buildings, the overall trend was clear and repeated nationwide.
Because of its ability to reveal these broader trends, patient data not only outlines a unique set of personal needs, but also some that are not so unique. By tapping into this information, data provides valuable insights for the overall healthcare system. It can be used to distribute resources more effectively, to plan future healthcare facilities that meet society’s needs and to drive innovations that make access to healthcare simpler for everyone.
But with huge quantities of personal healthcare data generated by different agencies every day, mining individual and societal insights is no simple task. The challenge for the healthcare system is how to collect and use all this data efficiently.
Changing expectations and the healthcare system
Consider for a moment all the possible points of entry for a patient to access information, care or treatment: online health information, pharmacist, optician, GP, dentist, physiotherapist, care worker, social worker, Minor Injuries Unit, Emergency Department, out-of-hours services, ambulance services, private healthcare, care homes and third sector organisations to list a few.
And each point of entry represents one of a plethora of systems used by health and care professionals to record personal data — from paper-based, verbal communication to spreadsheets and independent solutions. What’s more, these systems and providers aren’t joined-up, there’s a complete lack of integration to allow for effective sharing of data.
The integration of health and social care across the UK is imperative to securing and sustaining our world class NHS for future generations; and the integration, sharing and understanding of human data plays a fundamental role in providing the best service we can in a way that meets everyone’s needs.
One of the key changes we’re seeing today is how people seek out healthcare. People consume and share information 24/7. They want to access healthcare services at any time day or night, similar to how they might book a holiday, carry out online shopping, or engage with friends and family.
We need to modernise care and change our approach to match how people want to access health and care services. While our wonderful, traditional and complex healthcare system provides world-class care, research and innovation day in and day out, we know that there is much more to do to in keeping pace with technological advances in the way we deliver services to meet the expectations of our citizens. Creating a healthcare system that’s responsive to these changes in individual needs and societal expectations means creating a healthcare system that’s built on an efficient data strategy.
Meeting and treating the individual’s needs
Effective data management also means the healthcare system can collect and make use of all of a patient’s relevant information, making this data accessible to everyone in their circle of care. Evidence and research from our own engagement with citizens, thanks to our person-centred design approach, tells us that people are not averse to sharing information about themselves for the benefit of their own healthcare needs whilst the option to opt-out gives a personal choice.
From here, data can be used to better manage care and make effective treatment decisions.
It provides a depth and richness of insight into every person. We’re all multi-dimensional and so should our healthcare be – with treatments holistically based on the needs of the whole person.
Taking this shared data and putting it into a more effective data management programme means:
- Only having to share your story with healthcare professionals once
- A single source of your truth that healthcare professionals can access whenever they need it to provide you with the best possible care
- Accessing your own health and care information to be able to confidently manage your own health and wellbeing
- Being able to share your information with those in your circle of care, real-time
- Sharing your data between services such as education, healthcare, social care and police - reducing organisational barriers towards a joined-up service model.
Data is plentiful, we know that. And as a unique set of homogenous individuals, all with similar needs and expectations of our healthcare system, seeing data in human terms is integral to sustaining safe, effective, person-centred services.