Today, data is everywhere. As healthcare providers increase their investment in technology – looking for improvements and efficiencies – the amount of information continues to grow. But information is only useful when it’s turned into insights; insights that can be identified, reviewed and actioned.

Earlier this year, Telstra Health acquired Dr Foster, a leading UK head-quartered business that is at the forefront of the data-led transformation of the health sector by using sophisticated analytics to help healthcare organisations monitor and benchmark their performance.

Recently I sat down with Jan Vyjidak, Head of Consulting Delivery at Dr Foster and whose experience includes many years of working with hospitals on operational improvement, to find out how data can be used to improve the experience patients have in hospitals and ultimately save lives.

JH: In your view, what are some of the main clinical factors driving hospitals to use data and how can this be used to help patients?

From a clinical perspective it’s about knowing what kind of demand is coming through the hospital’s doors, in terms of referrals from primary care (for instance your family doctor), and emergency admissions. That dictates how clinical services are organised, to deliver the best possible care, at the right time.

Good, accurate data is an essential part of the process. It can tell us all kinds of useful information about individual patients’ diagnoses, treatment and length of stay and at the system level, it helps us look at health trends in the population, plan appropriate care and assess whether patients received high-quality treatment.

I think increasingly we live in a world where people expect a great deal of transparency, particularly when it comes to something as important as your health. So data can help to transform healthcare into a two-way process, enabling both patients and clinicians to make more informed decisions about treatment, based on the information available to them.

JH: Many say that data is only useful when it’s turned into insights and actions. What’s your advice for getting hospital staff to engage with data and turn it into action?

Sometimes in hospitals, different teams can end up working independently of each other and don’t always have the opportunity to create a shared understanding of the entire patient journey.

For example, a ward manager may have an idea of the information they’d like to know about their patients, but they might not always be best placed to define the type of reports that they want their business analysts to prepare for them.

Conversely, business analysts may well understand the complexity of data recording and visualisation, but can be removed from the frontline and the clinical realities facing ward managers – and therefore the most relevant information to supply them with.

Bridging that gap is key, and that is where good improvement methods and good teamwork can make a massive difference.

In a previous role, I worked at one of the leading cardiology centres in Europe. The team wanted to improve the experience of patients going through the cath lab (catheterisation laboratory – an examination room in a hospital with diagnostic imaging equipment used to visualise the heart), but that wasn’t easy because data was sitting in different hospital departments.

With involvement from the cardiologists, cath lab managers, radiologists and others, we were able explain to the data analysts what we wanted to show and how we could bring together all the datasets. This allowed decisions to be made around what needed to be improved, the key measures to focus on, what was ‘most broken’ and how to fix this.

JH: What are your top three tips for healthcare decision makers, who have lots of data at their fingertips and want to make sense of it?

Firstly, make sure you have tools that can visualise the data effectively. With healthcare information, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood from the trees, so it’s vital to have the technological tools that allow you to zone in on the most important indicators.

Secondly, look collectively at the key insights from the data. Managers should avoid looking separately at financial, quality and workforce indicators – they always need to be looked at together and interpreted in a comprehensive and holistic way.

Finally, don’t make data the preserve of a select few. To break the ‘silo mindset’, it’s important to embed an understanding and appreciation of data analysis across the organisation, to give staff a sense of ownership of the information so they feel empowered to deliver change.

JH: What excites you most about the potential of data, analytics and the way hospitals use this information, to drive change and ultimately save lives?

Technology is increasingly allowing us to better connect the data we’re collecting with the right people, and do some really exciting things with the data in real time.

For example, it’s now possible to ensure that clinicians have access to data that’s tailored to their needs, giving them increasingly granular information about the patients in their care. New devices and approaches to data sharing will mean that, in future, those datasets will provide an even fuller picture of the state of a patient’s health and wellbeing.

Real time data analysis also opens up a lot of opportunities for clinical and operational teams to make much better decisions and drive improvement at a faster pace, ultimately leading to more lives being saved more quickly and allowing more patient-centred care to be delivered in hospitals.

I think we’re on the cusp of some incredibly exciting new developments in healthcare data and analytics, and technology really does sit at the centre of this transformation.