The NHS Long Term Plan places digital development at the heart of steps to improve health and care, and to deliver services in a sustainable way. More than merely digitising current ways of working, this requires data to be used to generate evidence that transforms and improves services. A ‘learning health system’ continuously analyses data which is collected as part of routine care to monitor outcomes, identify improvements in care, and implement changes on the basis of evidence.
This briefing identifies opportunities for local organisations and systems to make better use of health data, and recommends ways that national policy could promote the collaboration and greater use of analytics which underpin the LHS concept. We focus on lessons for the NHS – but many of the same actions could be taken across the wider health and care system.
NHS organisations and health systems can:
- Assess capacity for analytics and support collaborative approaches to building analytical capacity across an STP or local health system – for example, by reducing duplication through being transparent about methods, joining up training and development opportunities for the analytics and wider workforce, and considering shared analytical teams
- Build analytical capability for transformation and improvement, including how NHS organisations can become more intelligent customers for information and analysis – making use of wider networks and partners, for example, public health teams, academic health science networks, commissioning support units and academic teams
- Build analytics requirements into local digital plans from the outset. It would then become possible, from day one, to get information out of electronic health records or shared record platforms and into a form which can be used for improving care. Failure to do this risks analytical requirements being seen as an optional extra to be addressed in future.
National organisations should:
- Recognise the importance of collaboration and getting clinical engagement in order for local health care records and digital innovation hubs to support learning health systems
- Act to increase the value of innovation in clinical careers, driving long term culture change
- Address national capacity for analytics, including developing the skills and capacity of analysts already working in the NHS, as well as developing analytic skills among the clinical and managerial workforce
- Demonstrate leadership for analytics in the NHS, through recognising the importance of senior analytics roles and developing national analytics capacity and career pathways, and fostering a culture that expects information to be used to run effective organisations
- Take a strategic approach to developing NHS data, including investing in outcomes data collection and patient-reported outcome measures of adequate quality.
Scobie S and Castle-Clarke S (2019) What can the NHS learn from learning health systems? Briefing, Nuffield Trust.