As the health service confronts the combined pressures of constrained budgets, ageing populations and rising prevalence of chronic diseases, there is a growing recognition of the need to make the most of routine information to guide both commissioning care and clinical decision-making. This project looks at how decision technology can best be used in the NHS.

The last 30 years have been characterised by the development of information technology, and it has often been argued that in the coming decades we will see the rise of decision technology. That is, the use of technology to help make better decisions.

Every year the NHS spends tens of millions of pounds gathering and analysing routine information, such as information about the kind of care people receive and where they receive it. Indeed, the NHS has some of the most comprehensive, timely and high-quality administrative information of any health care system in the world. This is information that could be used to improve access, quality, equity and efficiency of health care planning and delivery in the UK.

This study will help us to spot potential ways of making better use of routine information in helping clinicians and commissioners make informed decisions

However, it is only relatively recently that the NHS has started using this information systematically across the health service to guide decisions. Better use of routine information is now leading to the emergence of new types of decision-making tools, which incorporate analytical and statistical methods in software that feed on routine NHS information. Examples include commissioning dashboards, predictive tools that group populations according to risk, and decision-making tools for clinicians. These tools are emerging from a number of sources and a clear market for them is appearing.

But the health service may not be exploiting its routine information to the best of its advantage at present. Against this backdrop, the Nuffield Trust is conducting a project to explore how analytical tools based on routine information might better be used to guide commissioners and clinicians in making better decisions.

We will look at the state of the market for health care decision technologies in the UK and compare this with other international healthcare systems and with other sectors of the economy where decision technologies are more established.

We hope that this research will help us to identify potential opportunities for making better use of routine data in guiding decisions by clinicians and commissioners, and make recommendations to UK policy-makers on how best to foster these new technologies.

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