Enhance patient-first healthcare with better data practices

Data impacts nearly everything we do, yet 46% of global employees frequently make decisions based on gut feeling, according to our Data Literacy Report.

Healthcare organisations, where new challenges surface every day, can be especially vulnerable to this way of thinking, and tend to view experience as a sufficient response mechanism. This can work, but when it doesn’t, the consequences can be severe. Why? Because when new situations arise outside of one’s scope of practice — which they so often do in healthcare settings — the rule of thumb fails.

Thankfully, about 89% of executives now expect their teams to explain how data has informed their decision-making processes. In healthcare, this means empowering organisations to build and adopt a more data-driven culture that fosters better decision-making and improves patient outcomes, while placing patients at the heart of the system.

Below are four key strategies that can help healthcare practitioners use data to make informed decisions every day.

Big data vs wide data

By now, you may realise data is important for healthcare organisations to improve service delivery. But it is also important to note that we are not talking about big data here. Big data is locked up in different silos, can be largely unusable, or require substantial effort to manually analyse and correlate.

Instead, the world is working towards wide data. Wide data breaks down those data silos and links data from multiple sources to deliver a more complete analysis. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 70% of global organisations will be compelled to shift their focus from big data to wide data, providing more context for analytics and making AI less data-hungry.

A real-life example of the usefulness of wide data comes from Vejthani Hospital, one of Thailand’s leading private hospitals. Obtaining meaningful data in a timely manner is crucial for a hospital that caters to more than 300,000 global patients yearly. The hospital observed a 20% improvement in the use of operating theatres after tracking punctuality and schedule change of medical teams with business intelligence tools.

Staff now refer to a single dashboard instead of sifting through various Excel reports from different sources. This streamlined approach empowers management to make quick, well-informed decisions. What used to take two weeks can now be decided during a single meeting by simply accessing the dashboard. This has added value to data, boosting efficient delivery of services and higher value care.

Governance, not dictatorship

Data-driven decision-making creates an improvement-focused leadership culture, nurtures a data-friendly environment, and encourages curiosity from employees. But to make such a workplace culture a reality, data needs to be accessible via self-service.

Self-service here does not mean everyone can create, change, and copy data. Rather, it signifies the establishment of a well-governed self-service environment. In this setup, the IT department retains control over both data management and access, while staff members maintain the freedom to interact with, analyse, and share assets and results.

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD), one of the most extensive local health districts in New South Wales, has made strides in this area. With external assistance, WSLHD has transitioned to a governed self-service model. This allows clinicians to use integrated data for better patient care, all while upholding governance and compliance standards.

Data literacy and better patient care

I want to emphasise here that no one needs to be a data scientist; however, it is important to be data-literate enough to analyse, question, and communicate data. Staff equipped with data literacy skills can make more informed decisions when data is integrated into their workflow.

In a healthcare setting, this equates to having robust data literacy programmes in place so that workers and administrators read from the same script and work to the same standards across all settings — from primary to hospital, to recovery and home. Continuity of care in the modern-day healthcare workplace depends greatly on collective data literacy. Not only do patients transition smoothly from one setting or clinician to the next, but also so workers feel a sense of empowerment and efficacy across their scope of practice.

The Capital and Coast District Health Board in New Zealand is one such organisation that has been building a data-driven decision-making culture through literacy. Not only does it foster greater data engagement, but it also encourages feedback to continuously improve insights and actions.

Empower your people

Of course, wide data, governed self-service models, and data literacy require technological backing. With the right technology in place, healthcare organisations can foster data-driven cultures that empower healthcare employees through informed decision-making processes, rather than through the traditional ‘ask, wait, answer’ cycle, and improve patient outcomes.

The NSW Health Sydney Local Health District is leading the charge when it comes to workforce empowerment with its world-first application, which places real-time data into the hands of clinicians combating the opioid epidemic. Such use of data analytics has enabled a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, researchers, and IT experts to reduce the time required for data-based research into unwarranted clinical variation.

An experienced healthcare CEO once told me, “There is no such thing as plagiarism in health care. We are all challenged by the same issues and seek to develop similar solutions. So, if one person identifies something that works and shares it, others can learn and improve from your success.”

Healthcare organisations must empower practitioners, increase their data literacy, and improve their curiosity about data — we know that better-informed healthcare workers make the best decisions, ultimately, producing better patient outcomes.