At the beginning of 2020, Better made a notable new hire: Matt Cox, who will be establishing its first ever UK and Ireland office. In the latest of Digital Health’s Industry Spotlight series, Claire Read speaks to Cox. She discovers a conviction that Better’s philosophy – to respect patient data, unite it, and make it available as appropriate to patients and healthcare teams – is gaining more and more converts.
Anyone who has been involved in creating a new clinical assessment form, whether hardcopy or electronic, normally bears certain hallmarks. There’s a vague haunted look whenever the project is mentioned, provoked perhaps by the memories of the months-long debate over quite where the trust logo should sit.
There’s also a clear reliving of the stress as thoughts turn to the 35 different versions that had to be built, and the discussions over whether it could perhaps be compressed to sit on fewer than five pages. This tends to be coupled with an immediate desire to speak of the sheer scale of the team involved and the quantity of differing opinions.
It’s safe to say that those involved in creating a new digital covid assessment setup at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust bear no such scars. It took a four-person team less than three weeks to create a suite of forms which is used by staff in the intensive care unit to assess patients and then their outcomes following discharge from the unit.
The swiftness was made possible by the use of a solution which amalgamates data from software systems across the trust. The Better Platform not only stores all the information (in a vendor-neutral, open data format),it also allows users to easily query it, including through the development of reports. Rather than needing to go into multiple systems to review different pieces of data, the platform brings it all together as one.
“It’s a way of helping organisations that have lots of different systems but want to bring that data together to make the best clinical decision, or to understand their hospital or region better,” explains Matt Cox, managing director UK and Ireland at Better.
The firm – which was founded in the central European country of Slovenia, but which now has customers across 15 nations – is convinced that bringing data under the control of healthcare teams, and enabling them to manipulate it, is a fast route to innovation.
“As an example, we work in Germany with nine of the largest teaching hospitals and our platform sits underpinning their response to covid,” says Cox. “It also sits to support oncology research, cardiovascular disease research, research into infectious diseases.
“If you get that structured data from multiple locations and multiple applications, it comes together into really research-rich grade data that allow you then to really understand what is going on. So you can do better direct care with the best clinical data available, and also use that data for research.”
Better is already working with more than 30 trusts, and is optimistic that more and more healthcare organisations in the UK are seeing the potential of this kind of setup. Cox was hired at the beginning of the year to try to capitalise on interest, which he says has been catalysed by covid.
“I think the UK has been trying to go in this direction of building regional capability of shared services. One observation around covid is that the ability of the system to really share data freely – getting access to data [across organisations in a system] and understanding what’s going on was just really complicated.
“In the UK we now see a huge increase in interest, not just in what we do, but in the approach of an open platform. That’s right across the LHCREs, the integrated care systems, and across more and more trusts.”
Somerset, and particularly its rapid creation of covid forms, is proving a helpful UK example of the company’s approach and ethos. Creating the forms was as simple as dragging relevant data blocks onto a document. Where the required information is already present within the Better Platform – demographic details from PAS, for instance – it is auto-populated.
“Our mantra is that we want to get to a situation where you allow the clinicians to assemble what they want and need as a clinician, without worrying about the technical coding that goes behind it. We’re giving those tools to the clinicians and the IT teams who can then do this drag and dropping to orchestrate what they want to do without compromising the data.
“So what that means is they Somerset did all of this themselves – we stood back completely as a vendor. They built their own forms, they built their own digital application to support this, they built they own business intelligence and reporting, and they did it with a team of four people in two and a half weeks. Our job was to empower them to own the data,” explains Cox.
The standards-based approach of the platform means that others will also benefit from Somerset’s efforts. “They’ve shared the templates they created with fellow Better Platform users outside of the trust. We use open standards on the platform – including openEHR, which makes it possible to understand patient data taken from any setting – so the user community starts to share the assets among themselves. It’s all part of that platform approach of understanding the data first, and it allows you to do stuff on top of it.”
A year or a year and a half ago, Cox suggests it was “just the innovations” who were exploring this kind of approach. But he believes that has changed and that more and more trusts will be following the path already begun by Somerset and others – separating data from applications, bringing it together, and interrogating it as is most valuable to users.
“What we’re seeing now is I think that a much larger number of digital and clinical leaders are now looking at this as the way to transform,” he concludes.