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In this newsletter, we focus on the use of data to improve quality in health care services. We know that health care teams are the most important source of innovative ideas to improve the quality of care for their patients, and they also have the enthusiasm and motivation to spread and sustain change. We also know that data is a key part of the infrastructure needed to enable improvement. Across the Health Foundation we have been exploring how best to build the capability needed in the NHS to use emerging data analytic methods and techniques, and also how these can be combined with the improvement skills we know are necessary to improve care.

The exciting projects described by our Innovating for Improvement grant holders show the variety of ways health care data can be used to improve care – from visualising data to help clinicians identify those at risk of suicide, to mining electronic patient records to understand the characteristics of those who frequently attend their GP, and then using that information to co-design new services. Linking to datasets outside the health service could help clinicians understand more about their patients’ lives, and target interventions to where they would be most needed. For example, an innovative project in Liverpool sees data collected by the Citizens Advice service used by NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group to target their social prescribing service and improve the health and wellbeing of residents.

Often datasets in the NHS could be enhanced by linking across ‘silos’, for example allowing data to describe the patient journey from when an ambulance is called until they are discharged from an emergency department. In her blog, Sophie Clark, Research Paramedic, explains how she is linking ambulance and hospital data in London for the first time. She describes how her research could be used to improve the service that paramedics provide, and the potential opportunities and challenges for the future.

Beyond our improvement projects, which demonstrate the potential for data to be used to foster local change there is also a need to understand how data can be used sustainably at scale - Dr Becks Fisher, National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow, has been working with us over the last year to explore how data can be used to support general practices to collaborate, share data and improve care for patients. Her blog shares her reflections as a GP on the potential opportunities and challenges illuminated by her initial findings.

While there is no shortage of data in the NHS, and many examples of teams using data effectively, a lack of skilled data analysts in many parts of the NHS has been cited as a key barrier to the NHS using its data for improvement. In his blog, Martin Bardsley, Senior Fellow in Data Analytics, describes the huge response to our Advancing Applied Analytics programme and how this will build the capability and skillset of analysts across the health service.

Outlined in this newsletter is just a small selection of the work we are supporting in this area. Despite all the exciting projects already running, and our own body of in-house research, we know that we have only just started to uncover what can be achieved through the innovative use of data alongside improvement skills. We hope the blogs and articles in this issue give a small taster of how these approaches can help support teams working in the challenging world of improving care.

Sarah Deeny is Assistant Director of Data Analytics and Sarah Henderson is Associate Director of Improvement Programmes at the Health Foundation.

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