Health Data Research UK Better Care Program

The researchers call on policymakers to support the use of data-driven learning health systems to bring about a step change in the ability of the NHS to improve patient care.

The call comes in the form of a new report, by Health Data Research UK’s (HDR UK) Better Care program and the Health Foundation, warns that tackling the huge pressures currently facing health services and care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a period of significant underfunding will require action on multiple fronts, and with learning health systems a key part of the mix.

Learning health systems are approaches that enable iterative, data-driven improvements to health and care systems that build on the growing availability of clinical and patient-generated data. They aim to give health and care services the tools to identify and solve problems from the inside, transforming them into “drivers of innovation and improvement”.

The report suggests that the learning health system approach offers a more powerful and sustainable route to improving NHS efficiency than relying on short-term and costly external advisory support or training programs. nation-wide improvement that are not tailored to meet local and regional challenges and needs. .

Given the challenges facing health and care services, the authors warn that learning health systems are essential to the sustainability of the NHS and should be seen as a ‘good to have’.

Alice Turnbull, National Program Manager, HDR UK, said:

“The UK health and care system is facing some of the most significant resource challenges in its history.

“The long-term impact of the COVID pandemic combined with the current economic crisis makes it even more urgent to integrate approaches that deliver lasting and effective improvements in care and position our NHS to meet future health needs.

“In many ways, health care has always learned by doing. But recent advances in data and technology, coupled with the move toward greater collaboration and integration between departments, offer new opportunities to improve care more systematically.

“HDR UK is working to harness this opportunity by enabling a more integrated health data ecosystem that prioritizes benefits for patients and the public. This system is already enabling data-driven information and technology to quickly inform decision-making across the health and care system, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that everyone, everywhere, benefits from this approach.

“We hope the recommendations presented in this report will support the implementation of learning health systems across the UK and provide a pathway to help the National Health Service negotiate the current challenges they face.”

Despite their potential, the report finds that most providers and systems have not yet been able to capitalize on health systems learning, creating a significant gap between their “promise and practice”.

Based on interviews and a survey of over 100 stakeholders, the report provides evidence that a lack of expertise in data analysis and the challenges of linking data between different sources are the main barriers to implementation learning health systems.

In response, the authors outline actions needed to increase data and analytics expertise through better training and career path opportunities, and by providing long-term funding to support the development of digital capabilities. mature.

It also features 16 examples of how learning health systems have improved patient care, from Bluetooth-enabled nebulizers that have helped people with cystic fibrosis track their medication intake and shape their treatment plans, to data on the impact of taking magnesium sulfate as a pregnancy supplement. which would have prevented 48 cases of cerebral palsy between 2018 and 2021.

Tim Horton, Deputy Director (Insight & Analysis) at the Health Foundation said:

“The health and care system is under unprecedented pressure. A step change in providers’ ability to learn and improve is needed in order to find a sustainable path through COVID-19 recovery and meet future health needs.

“Health systems learning can play a critical role here: capitalizing on the growing availability and potential of data and technology, to understand how to improve patient care and translate it into practice.

“Policy makers and those who direct health and care services can help create the conditions for learning health systems to flourish.

“Progress will be needed on a range of related issues, including data, digital maturity, improvement capability and culture, and in developing a clear vision for learning about health systems and how they can improve. health and care.

“Our report highlights eight areas where targeted action could support the development of learning health systems and help many more patients benefit from improved care.”


About the Better Care program

HDR UK’s Better Care program aims to equip people with large-scale data and advanced analytics so they can identify and make informed decisions about the best care for them.

Over the past two years, as part of this wider program, the Health Foundation and HDR UK have worked in partnership to deliver the Better Care Catalyst programme. This partnership has funded three projects aimed at developing data-driven tools that aim to improve healthcare decision-making. It also supported three workstreams to define the training, knowledge mobilization and policy actions needed to support data-driven learning and healthcare improvement.

About Health Data Research in the UK

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) is the UK’s national institute for health data science. HDR UK’s mission is to bring together UK health and care data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives by uniting, improving and using data as one national institute.

About the Health Foundation

The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to improving health and healthcare for people in the UK. This report is part of a larger work to enable faster improvement in health and care – how new emerging technologies and data can support the adoption and spread of health improvement and change in service model, to sustainably meet the current and future needs of people.

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Sean N. Ayres