Federated Data Platform has become a somewhat buzz term in the last year or so. Vishal Marria, CEO at Quantexa, looks at what role such data platforms have to play in healthcare. 

While the NHS managed the pandemic in heroic fashion, health providers now face a new set of challenges. NHS data shows that the number of patients awaiting treatment in England has risen to a record high of 6.6 million. NHS staff face continued challenges discharging patients into social care – this summer, more than half of patients fit for discharge remained in hospital, further impacting bed space. In June, 2.2 million people attended A&E, the busiest June on record.

Unsurprisingly, satisfaction with the NHS has suffered, falling to its lowest level since 1997, according to a British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey – a 25-year low – with patients citing concerns over long waiting times and staff shortages.

Ministers and the NHS itself are under rising pressure to demonstrate measurable improvements.

The solution is complex, but clear. The NHS has decades of patient data, highly detailed records of interactions with hospitals, surgeries, and social care providers. But none of this data is connected. As in many other health systems, NHS data exists in silos, owned, and managed by different and distinct parts of the NHS and wider care system, but not joined in a meaningful way.

Local patients and their health information are for example recognised by their GPs, but this data cannot be combined with information that a hospital pharmacist has about that same patient’s treatment as an outpatient, or other patients with similar characteristics.

Earlier this year, the UK government set out its digital agenda to harness breakthroughs in AI and data technology to drive transformation in the NHS and social care system.

At the heart of the government’s digital agenda is a new, Federated Data Platform (FDP), on which the NHS’s transformation will be built. The FDP will bring together siloed data from the 42 Integrated Care Systems, partnerships of organisations that come together to plan and deliver joined up health and care services. Joining all this data together on the NHS’s new federated data platform will ultimately boost efficiency, enhance service quality and improve health outcomes.

A real opportunity to transform health and care

Ultimately, the benefits of integrated data go beyond reducing waiting lists and freeing up beds. The planned FDP would provide the NHS with its first ever integrated view of all aspects of health and social care, enabling more informed and accurate decisions. The planned FDP will help to uncover new insights that will change the way patients access healthcare, the way different providers work together, and ultimately the way new treatments are designed.

There are many direct benefits for patients in improving data connectedness and quality. For example, making it easier for clinicians to monitor the safety of treatments: are the drugs they prescribe having the desired effect? This type of real-time information can be aggregated to drive improvements at local level, or to support early intervention for other patients with similar characteristics, with potentially lifesaving results.

In environments where data is not only in multiple locations but also multiple formats, it is fundamental that a single, connected view of data is created with a high level of accuracy. Entity Resolution is the answer, a critical technology capability to connect, match and resolve data at scale from multiple sources inside and outside of an organisation, to enable accurate information that can be trusted for making critical decisions. Only with Entity Resolution can you be sure that the Mrs Jones on file is the correct Mrs Jones and not a different patient with the same surname.

By connecting and integrating patient data, health and social care providers will have the capability to see the patterns and relationships in data to make increasingly effective and trusted decisions, whether that means cancelling unnecessary appointments to reduce waiting times, moving emergency resources to where they’re needed most, or using real-time health trackers to monitor treatment effectiveness and proactively alert patient risks.

The ability to connect NHS data sources across health providers is a core requirement of an integrated data platform, bringing numerous benefits, not least the ability to respond with agility to public health crises, such as pandemics.

Supporting a better healthcare system for patients and practitioners

The FDP programme is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform health and social care in the UK – and a chance for the NHS to create a digital blueprint for other national health providers to follow.

The success of the FDP rests on four key principles.

1. It must increase transparency in the way health data is used. Implementing a transparent data-sharing solution will build public confidence that patient data is being handled in a safe and secure way, as well as providing a better understanding as to how that data is being used. This programme needs to put patients in control of the use of their data. And it’s critical that they understand how it’s being used, and the guardrails that are in place to protect it.

2. It must make information more accessible, helping to improve the quality of care. Currently, an individual patient’s health data is stored in separate silos, not combined in a single patient view or golden record. This means general practitioners, hospitals, specialists, mental health professionals, and others can’t see a patient’s complete medical history to understand the complete picture. That missing and fragmented information is an obstacle to providing the best and fastest care, and to ensuring that healthcare resources are aligned to best serve everyone.

3. It should support more proactive planning around services and patient needs. Without a comprehensive data management system, healthcare planning and resource allocation can be difficult to manage, not just in a pandemic. The FDP will provide NHS managers with the information they need for better strategic and operational planning – for the benefit of all UK NHS patients.

4. It should empower Integrated Care Systems to coordinate care. In 2019, the NHS began a major initiative to bring together the work of primary and community healthcare stakeholders, based on the idea that joining up organisations will provide better care for patients. In this Integrated Care System (ICS) approach, NHS organisations, local councils, and other partners take collective responsibility for managing resources and improving the health of the local population.

As the NHS concentrates on its recovery from the Covid-19 backlog, the next phase of digital transformation will focus on using data to optimise decisions, allowing more integrated ways of working and driving greater productivity using high quality data and analytics. For example, bringing together disparate hospital data, such as theatre schedule and staff rostering, can help staff work more efficiently. A pilot at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital helped to cut the inpatient waiting list by 28 per cent.

Reducing waiting lists is just the start. The FDP has the potential to reimagine health and social care delivery, creating a modern NHS fit for the digital age. Connecting NHS data to create a single, trusted view will enable the NHS to make more informed and accurate decisions not just to improve health outcomes but to drive best practices across the whole of the UK care system.

The vision sounds ambitious. But it is achievable. Most important, first, is that it is achieved quickly. The unique combination of pressures the NHS faces post-pandemic require an urgent resolution. Second, it must be achieved without undermining patient privacy. Confidential patient data is highly sensitive and must be treated with respect, not to mention held securely.

This is one reason why the upcoming procurement process is also an acid test for data as a force for good. It matters to us all that our valuable patient records, the most sensitive and personal data in existence, are used responsibly, not only to enhance our own health experiences but to improve the quality of care for all patients.