How data is shaping our health

The problems facing healthcare in the UK are the same for many countries across the world – an ageing population, the increase in chronic disease and a rise in cancer cases whilst at the same time resources and budgets are being squeezed. Modelling shows that the current model of care in the UK will lead to a funding gap of 30 billion GBP over the next 7 years1.  There is a prime opportunity to make huge efficiency savings, while maintaining levels of patient care, and it’s more important than ever that the NHS embraces change to achieve this.

Over the last ten years we have created mountains of data in the NHS. But we need to move from simply digitising information to making this data work hard for us. We need to connect clinicians – and systems – and make it easy for them to see all the information they need to diagnose and treat patients. We need to use analytics to give clinicians and managers insights they can use to improve productivity and, most importantly, patient care and clinical outcomes.

Let’s look at two examples of this in practice.

The operating room environment is complex, high risk and expensive. It drives up to 60% of income and represents 30-40% of costs for a hospital. Clinicians and managers face challenges in gaining accurate and real-time data to assist in scheduling staff, planning for surgical procedures and making sure the right specialist surgical materials are available. Not only do hospitals bear the cost of operating rooms standing needlessly empty while waiting lists grow, patients face last minute cancellations and delays to treatment2.

Using software and analytics, GE Healthcare was able to help University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust, one of largest acute teaching hospitals in UK, achieve a 42% reduction in unused theatre sessions. We created an easy-to-read dashboard to give staff a real time view of procedures scheduled and in-progress. This allows much better decision-making. For example, if a case is overrunning managers can arrange for people to stay on shift and emergency coordinators can schedule much more easily. By making the available data work for them, they are able to reduce cancellations and delays for patients and unlock around £750k worth of capacity each year. Down time for theatres is now less than 4% when previously it was up to 16%3.

Let’s turn to pathology. Pathology is involved in 100% of all cancer diagnoses and in most patient care pathways – from initial diagnosis of the disease, to measuring how patients are responding to treatment and ongoing monitoring. Yet histopathology – the examination of tissue under a microscope – is often described as the last analogue department in the hospital. There has been little investment in empowering histopathologists with new tools and ways of working. Today, tissue slides have to be physically taken to the pathologist, or the pathologist has to travel to view them. This can result in delays, risks slides being lost or damaged and makes collaboration difficult.

Digitising slides for research use has been around for a decade. Now we have high resolution scanners that are approved in Europe for routine diagnosis. And more than just digitising slides, we have software to connect pathologists wherever they are in the world – as long as they have an internet connection. Using this technology, pathologists can measure tumour size on screen, annotate slides and discuss cases much more easily with specialist pathologists and other clinicians involved in the patient’s care – like the oncologist or radiologist.

This new digital working has great potential. Once enough slides have been digitised, we will be able to design computer algorithms that will be able to help with tasks currently done by eye, such as tumour grading. Yet this is more than simply automating processes. We hope these computer algorithms will also be able to refine and spot patterns beyond what is possible today with a microscope. This increased level of accuracy in tumour grading would allow clinicians to offer patients a more personalised treatment.

As cancer treatment becomes more targeted, small differences in pathology diagnosis can alter treatment decisions and can lead to under or over treatment. By harnessing digital pathology technology we can make it easy for pathologists to work together and to connect with subspecialists who can diagnose complex disease areas. So being able to connect pathologists and put the information they need at their fingertips is not just about productivity, it’s also good news for patients. Quicker diagnosis means treatment can start sooner and patients spend less time anxiously waiting for results.

Gathering the data is an important component of the process, but more importantly is how to engineer the information into technological solutions to healthcare and budget problems that we are currently faced with. Optimising and utilising the data through analytical and digital platforms will allow both clinicians and hospitals across the country drive efficiency in delivering better healthcare to our communities.



1.NHS: The NHS belongs to the people: a call to action, 11 July 2013.

2.Strategic Investments in the Operating Room (OR): Information Technology (IT) to Generate Rapid ROI and Long‐Term Competitive Advantage, By Kermit Randa, FACHE, CPHIMS; Randy Heiser, BA, MA and Robert Gill, BS,

3.GE Healthcare: Centricity Opera helps enhance patient care, powers productivity and unlocks financial gains at UHCW, 2014.