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Making Better Use of Medical Data in the UK

In partnership with IQVIA, Chamber UK recently hosted a discussion on healthcare innovation in the United Kingdom. IQVIA are a trusted partner of the Government and are looking to help turn the UK’s potential as a global life sciences superpower into a reality.

The discussion was chaired by Angela McFarlane, Senior Vice President at IQVIA, and joined by various experts in the field, including the National Director of Transformation at NHS England and the CEO at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

The first half of the discussion focused on healthcare innovation in the life sciences with McFarlane probing the panellists with a series of key questions. In the second half, members of the audience were given the opportunity to press the panellists about how we can better utilise data in the healthcare industry.

The audience was packed with medical professionals from across the sector including GPs, business owners and medical consultants.

The ethical justification for not using data

Dr Martin McShane immediately put the spotlight on the ethics behind not using data effectively in the medical industry. He argued that if there isn’t an ethical justification, then all medical professionals should be reporting themselves to the General Medical Council.

Dr Tim Ferris, National Director of Transformation at NHS England, argued that it’s an issue of providing patients with “assurance and reassurance” that their privacy is a priority. He said:

“When people are resistant to change they assume that the status quo is better than the proposed change so they start pointing out all of the potential issues with the change. The reality is, there are a lot of problems with how we currently doing things.

“The obviousness of how we can use data to improve a million different things in our sector is obvious but the problem is the public’s perception of privacy in relation to data. That is an absolutely legitimate concern and it’s on us to address these concerns.

“Beyond privacy, there is no justification not to introduce more data-driven processes.”

Embedding data in the transformation agenda of all organisations

Jason Bradley, the Strategic Advisor at Warrington and Halton Hospitals, questioned whether there is any use in embedding data unless it’s done across all organisations. He asked the panellists how we could go about ensuring that it is introduced across the board.

Professor Ian Abbs, Chief Executive Officer at Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, believes that introducing Digital Officers to boards at all NHS Trusts is the key to being able to implement a data-first approach:

“There is a strong argument for purposeful data-driven care. To get it on the agenda, we need to accelerate these types of roles on boards. I don’t know how many Trusts currently have a Chief Digital Officer with a role in transformation but there needs to be more.

“I’m pretty sure that digital analytics is not part of the undergraduate medical curriculum in most UK universities. This is perhaps why we struggle for digital literacy in our workforces.”

Rosalind Campion, Director of the Office for Life Science, is only keen on these types of roles being introduced to Trusts during what she called “the transition phase”. She said:

“I’m hoping that in 20 years we won’t need Chief Digital Officers because data is so ingrained in what we do that having a person responsible for that would be weird. However, to get to that point, we do need them right now – although I don’t think it’s the long-term solution.”

How can data innovation help the most disadvantaged in our communities?

Those who are most disadvantaged in the UK are the biggest user of the NHS, as the alternative of private healthcare isn’t even a consideration. Should we, therefore, be looking primarily at how data innovation can help these people?

Dr Bob Klaber, Consultant General Pediatrician and Director of Strategy, Research and Innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, believes that this is the “biggest challenge for the decade ahead”. He added:

“This is a very clear message that I give to the teams I work with. We’ve commissioned healthcare services largely on what we did last year rather than focusing on the needs of the people who need our services more than anyone else.

“We’ve been asleep about this stuff for a while, we’ve ignored people in the past for reasons that are indefensible. The floodlights are now on it and we need a really clear focus on it. We need to use data to track how we’re getting on with that.”

Dr Tim Ferris echoed these thoughts and spoke about the introduction of the Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Dashboard as evidence that data is being introduced to improve healthcare inequalities. He said:

“This dashboard is being distributed to every Integrated Care System in the country. We haven’t done this kind of thing before but we’re doing it and now while it’s not sufficient, it’s the first necessary step we’ve taken.

“I find no greater motivating force among NHS workers than addressing the challenge of healthcare inequality. If you have the data and the will, and there’s clearly the will, then there is every chance we can make real strikes against this challenge.”

Final thought

The panel ended with McFarlane’s question to the audience. She asked them how confident they were that the UK would achieve its ambition of being a world leader in health innovation. The winner of the poll was “confident” which was an upgrade on the previous result of “somewhat confident” when the same question was asked mid-way through the session.

Although the poll results shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a sweeping indictment of the work IQVIA, the NHS and the government are setting out to do, it does perhaps breed a degree of confidence that we can overcome the current financial plight and restore some pride as a nation. The richness of discussion between stakeholders across the health and life science ecosystem proved a welcome insight into better ways of working.

To watch the full panel discussion, see below:

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