NHS report outlines causes of poor data quality

An investigation by the NHS Information Centre has identified the drivers of poor data quality in the health service.

The report examined the quality of data submitted by health and social care trusts in England to national NHS bodies. It found that the quality of data in some departments of the NHS was generally high, but there was room for improvement across the board.

"Poor data quality undermines confidence in the information used to plan and commission services, assess quality, facilitate patient choice and ensure effective use of resources," the report asserted.

"The causes of poor data quality can vary for the individual data set and organisation submitting the data," the NHS Information Centre’s report found. "However … there are a number of consistent areas which lead to poor quality of data across all activities, sectors and data sets."  

These are the absence of standards and guidance to measure data quality; poor training and awareness of data quality issues; badly configured or integrated systems and organisational change.

"Reorganisation and reconfiguration of services often leads to data quality issues," the report found. "[M]ergers of trusts do not always lead to an immediate merger of IT systems; resulting in multiple submissions and inadvertent deletion or duplication of records. Changes in organisation structures often lead to changes and reductions in staff with some knowledge invariably lost."

The report also found that some measures undertaken by the NHS have succeeded in improving data quality.

It presents the case study of Care UK, an independent healthcare provider that submits data to the NHS’s Secondary Use Service (SUS), which analyse patient data to improve adminstrative and operational processes. In 2009, SUS introduced data quality dashboards to assess the quality of data submitted by independent providers. This helped to identify that the quality of Care UK’s data was below the national average, and that certain patient identifiers used by the organisation were unfit for purpose.

"Through regular review of the data quality dashboards and consultation with the [Information Centre], Care UK was able to identify their problem records and update internal processes to improve their data," the report said. "The latest data quality dashboards are showing that Care UK have achieved 100% validity in all key [patient care] fields."

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media (now Bonhill Group plc) from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The...

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