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Analytics and new technologies like artificial intelligence are having a huge impact on our lives. They’ve changed the way we access services, how we communicate, and even our own behaviour. And we can expect an enormous impact as these technologies begin to be used more widely in health care over the next few years. 

The key question is: how can we make sure the impacts are positive, so that everyone’s health and care benefits? These technologies have the potential to detect disease much earlier, move care closer to home, and encourage health promoting behaviours. They can also exacerbate health inequalities, decrease social connectedness, and increase demand for an overstretched health and social care system. 

If technology is going to enhance health, we need to tackle these risks, while ensuring the benefits materialise. This newsletter explores what the Health Foundation is already doing to help in this area, and what more we might be able to do in the future in partnership with others. 

Using data analytics to tackle real-world problems

Our data analytics team has a track record in using our skills to tackle real-world problems in health and social care, for tangible public benefit. We help people make better decisions. This means, for example, highlighting how the NHS Long Term Plan could tackle issues about multimorbidity, shaping the roll-out of extra support for care homes, or informing the roll out of digital-first primary care through the new project that Arne Wolters describes in his blog for this newsletter. 

We’re continually pushing ourselves to develop our own practice, which is why we’re working on how we are involving and engaging the public and patients, and have started to share our code for other analytical teams to use via Github.  

Like any team, we have much more to learn, but given the impacts that data are having on society, we think it’s more important than ever for all of us to be tackling issues like ethics, openness and transparency, patient involvement and reporting standards. Over the next few years, we want to be working with partners across the sector to shape and define good practice, to help make sure the benefits from analytics are felt by everybody. 

Supporting analytics across the health and care system

We’re firm advocates of the need for the health and care system to build analytical capability. In May, we published Untapped potential, which explored how better analytics can help organisations provide person-centred, effective, timely and efficient care. We suggested some practical steps that can be taken by the analytical community alongside national organisations like NHSX. 

Building on this work, we’ve developed the Analytical Capability Index, launching in November in partnership with Beautiful Information. This tool was produced in collaboration with the analytical community and allows organisations to assess the way that they use information and analysis. It also signposts to resources and examples of good practice.

Meanwhile, our Advancing Applied Analytics programme has now supported 33 analytics teams around the UK to apply innovative analytics to tackling real-world problems. Our focus has been on ensuring that this will build their capability for better analytics for the long-term. In this newsletter, Neil Pettinger shares the findings from his evaluation of the programme. We will be announcing a funding call for a further ten projects in November. 

In October, we were thrilled to announce our support for two models of analytical collaboration, the Welsh Modelling Collaborative and the NHS-R Community. The Welsh Modelling Collaborative plans to promote joint analytical problem solving for NHS stakeholders by bringing together NHS Wales decision makers, analysts and academics. The next phase of the NHSR Community will see them help develop and share open source solutions for the NHS, having already run two sold-out national conferences and delivered many training workshops. 

Informing national policy and system design  

Of course, the impact of analytics and data-driven technology will depend in large part on the environment in which these technologies are developed, adopted and used. 

We’ve begun to work with a diverse range of organisations to understand what the critical issues are, and how they should be addressed. Some of the questions emerging are about how the health and care system can get better at articulating the priorities for new technologies, and how we can ensure new technologies reduce health inequalities? There are also challenges around regulation and maximising the benefit from health data to the public. 

We’re considering different options for what role the Health Foundation could play in further exploring and addressing some of these challenges, building on the events that we have already held this year (including this one). In the meantime, if you’re interested in our take on topical issues about data and technology, do check out our pieces on the new AI lab, bias and algorithms, the role of data and technology in public health, and digital first primary care.  

Collaboration and partnerships

Collaboration and partnership working will be key to achieving impact in this area. We can only do so much on our own. By working with others, we can have a much bigger impact, while helping to reduce the fragmentation that currently exists in the system. 

We are excited to launch a new partnership in the form of our Networked Data Lab. We’re looking for teams from across the UK who want to work collaboratively to deliver data-driven insights on common problems facing the health and care service. Sarah Deeny gives an overview in her blog and describes how teams can express an interest in working with us.  

The lab will work alongside our existing partnership with NHS England and Improvement, the Improvement Analytics Unit. We’ve been developing other partnerships that will be announced soon - so do keep an eye on Twitter for the latest announcements. 

Adam Steventon (@ASteventonTHF) is Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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