The right IT therapy?

Can greater use of information technology to manage whole healthcare systems help? The National Health Service Information Centre (NHS IC), England’s central, authoritative source of health and social care information for frontline decision makers, believes it can.

SAS, the leader in business analytics software and services, partnered with the NHS IC in May 2009 to build a standardised data management environment and business analytics platform with the aim of revolutionising the use of information to improve decision-making, delivering better care and raising productivity. The project would integrate, manage and analyse information across the NHS, about health inequalities for instance, to help decisionmakers deliver better services and patient care.

“Health services worldwide face three main challenges,” Tim Straughan, the NHS IC chief executive, says. “Firstly, improving the quality of care to meet the expectations of patients; secondly, coping with the economic downturn; and thirdly –the NHS IC’s focus–having access to information and using it effectively to address the first two.”

For the NHS IC to fully understand the efficiency and effectiveness of the services the NHS is providing, data needs to be drawn from different organisations such as social services, mental health services and primary care, in order to manage and analyse it. SAS is working with the NHS IC to integrate data held in disparate systems, in an attempt to achieve a better understanding of patient needs and to improve local decision-making on providing healthcare.

However, budgets have become more challenging in the current economic crisis, and under the new coalition government in the UK, the NHS IC is now placing greater emphasis on the central collection and professional management of all data across the NHS. The UK government is helping by reducing barriers to obtaining health data, for example through its web site at which, in turn, will drive a commercial market around data analysis.

The goal is for non-NHS organisations to analyse NHS data and provide feedback to healthcare providers. SAS believes that while this approach should enable more transparency and increase patient choice, there is some concern as to the type of profitable analysis which will be attractive to non-NHS organisations. There is the potential complexity of having to manage multiple interpretations and questions over the degree to which some data simply must be analysed internally, such as NHS outcomes and performance measures.

Still, in an era of increasing budgetary pressure and an ageing population, analytics may offer the only way forward to make better-informed decisions and pro-actively manage public healthcare systems. It is early days, although with the right policy support and investment, people’s healthcare and costs should benefit.

For more on the SAS’ work, contact Saul Spearing, Healthcare Client Manager, SAS UK. Visit

©OECD Observer No 281, October 2010

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