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Tackling the huge pressures that health and care services are currently under will require action on multiple fronts. A step change in the health service’s learning and improvement capability will be essential to charting a sustainable path out of the current crisis and effectively reshape care to meet future health needs. Learning health systems offer a promising way to approach this.

What is a learning health system?

A learning health system (LHS) is a team, provider or group of providers that, working with a community of stakeholders, has developed the ability to learn from the routine care it delivers and improve as a result – and, crucially, to do so as part of business as usual. An LHS is a way of describing a systematic approach to iterative, data-driven improvement.

What are the benefits of implementing one?

Learning and improvement are already happening in most providers and, in many cases, LHS approaches will offer a way to pull this existing work together in a more systematic way and organise it more effectively. In this sense, LHSs could be seen as the next stage in the evolution of traditional quality improvement approaches.

Helping teams and providers become LHSs gives them the tools to diagnose and solve problems and to drive improvement from within – turning them into ‘engines of innovation and improvement. LHSs can also be thought of as sophisticated ‘implementation mechanisms’, providing the infrastructure for teams and providers to effectively adapt, embed and refine ideas and innovations from elsewhere.

Where do we start?

When developing a LHS, there are some steps you can take to prepare for the initial learning and improvement cycle. We have outlined these important first steps, below, to help you get started.

Further reading

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