Big data: providing the information that helps save lives

Data has become a vital resource for the emergency services, especially in improving waiting times in A&E departments.

Over the past 5 years, the medical sector has steadily been transformed by technology.

Wearable devices now measure people’s health in detail, robots can perform operations with 100% accuracy, and the newest light therapies can diagnose patients without the need for surgery.

While the focus has predominantly been the volume of sensor data generated through these procedures, the medical sectors ability to store, process and analyse vast amounts of data at a relatively low cost, as well as cross reference it with third party sources in the cloud, is a major breakthrough.

This has become a vital resource for emergency services, especially A&E departments, who consistently need their services to be analysed in order to make life-saving improvements.

The past year has been the busiest on record for British A&E departments, with over 22.9 million attendees since March 2015.

Staff are under immense pressure to provide the best possible service, yet a study by Shadow Health Secretary found only 4 hospitals in England hit Government A&E targets in the first 3 months of 2016.

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Moreover, staff are having to cope with 21,000 more patients within the four-hour standard compared to March last year.

A&E departments are therefore consistently searching for solutions that will help speed up and improve their service to treat more patients.

The ability to manipulate data may provide the answer, as analytics can empower medical professionals with real insights into treatments, response times and the running of services.

Ultimately, it will provide the vital information that will help frontline staff make timely and right decisions that will save lives.

DIY healthcare professionals

The use of data analytics in the healthcare sector is not a new phenomenon, but the scope of use certainly has changed.

Now, both professionals and patients themselves to have access to the data, and patients can gain an insight into the effects of their own treatments.

Yet it also functions to visually display factors such as patient satisfaction and productivity. Ultimately, employing data software enables healthcare professionals to determine the best treatment for their patients, reduce waiting times at the emergency room and save on costs.

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Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust has been using Qlik for this very reason.

Rolling out analytics across all aspects of the organisation has helped the trust save millions in efficiency savings and has improved quality of care.

Furthermore, by also putting these analytics tools in the hands of the hospital staff at the point of decision, it has enabled the A&E department to determine timings of procedures and therefore decrease the waiting time by thirty minutes.

It is immensely empowering for the staff, who are very much becoming part of the process in making the decisions that determine their patient’s treatment and health. Trusting front line staff to make decisions and bring about change will ultimately get the best out of their services.

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Shortening the time spent between a patient’s initial call and their arrival at the hospital is a top priority because every second counts in A&E.

Yet, it is often difficult to determine where time can be saved when information needs to be processed and concluded from so many different points of the response-time procedure.

Multiple ambulance services are therefore turning to data analytics and visualisation to keep this data in one place so it can be quickly understood. Analytics provides insight into the data of each step of the procedure, which can then be analysed to detect patterns and thus create solutions – and it has proved to be successful.

For the North Holland (NHN) medical sector, introducing a visualisation dashboard helped make several improvements to its services, including reducing their total time from the patient’s call to the operation by 20 minutes (the national average in Holland stands at 120 minutes).

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From their data, NHN found it is sometimes more beneficial for a patient to go to a hospital further from their home because of operating room availability.

In an acute care chain where every second counts, the ability to make this change is both phenomenal and life changing.

This has also been rolled out by the ambulance service in Uppsala, Sweden, who have used data to reduce their response time by up to ten minutes. Analytics has helped better distribute their ambulances across areas that produce a higher number of emergency calls, meaning more emergencies have been responded to.

The role of data as a lifesaving mean is much closer than often assumed.

Currently, the biggest challenge is bringing relevant data together from different sources. But with progress, data analytics can be an established resource for providing the life-changing information needed to help emergency services make the right changes and succeed – and its role in the medical sector is only going to grow.

In an industry that is literally life dependent, it is extraordinary to see the power data has already had in aiding the ability of A&E departments to adapt and save more lives. Considering the speed that technology like this is advancing, the thought of how many lives data can help save in the future is incredible.


Sourced from David Bolton, global healthcare director at Qlik

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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