NHS teams are under pressure. In this article, Mark Pridmore (pictured below), CaseCapture head of strategy, discusses whether modern digital approaches to clinical audit be a quick win to help relieve just some of the burden, helping organisations to better understand performance at busy times?
Clinical audits are a crucial process used to understand performance against quality standards and can be supported by technology to help understand data
A glance at the mainstream media headlines on almost any day in recent months is enough to get an idea of the demands facing many thousands of people working in the NHS.
Whether they are dealing with growing backlogs, emergency handovers, a workforce crisis, or pressures that remain from flu and COVID; NHS professionals are probably under the most pressure they have ever faced.
Yet 2023 has already been a year where a significant number of people have taken their time to speak to me about clinical audit, which it appears many want to modernise with urgency.
One manager I spoke to told me how a team of five people were needed to try to extract insights from spreadsheets used to record clinical audits.
And this is probably not an uncommon scenario.
Digitisation is a key priority in the NHS for good reasons.
For clinical audit – a crucial process used to understand clinical performance and the quality of services provided to patients – the digitisation picture is mixed.
A significant amount of healthcare providers rely on spreadsheets, both to generate and interrogate data. But this process can be manually intensive – both for frontline teams inputting data and for anyone trying to understand what that data is telling them.
2023 has already been a year where a significant number of people have taken their time to speak to me about clinical audit, which it appears many want to modernise with urgency
My recent conversations suggest that many want to change this situation with urgency and more consistently make clinical audit part of the digitisation agenda.
They want to follow the example set by colleagues in hospitals where clinical audit is captured through more-modern digital tools as standard, tools specifically built for the task. like CaseCapture.
Many clinicians are already familiar with this platform, as it underpins prominent national audits managed by royal colleges and others.
The reasons for change now are significant.
People want to help to reduce some of the stresses faced by frontline teams who simply do not have time to manage cumbersome spreadsheets; and to provide those teams with mobile easier-to-use alternatives.
And they want to address the need for quality, reliable, and relevant data in order to highlight where quality improvement is needed, where safety concerns might exist, and where service transformation might progress.
In addition, investment in these tools, which are inexpensive, could lead to speedy financial returns while helping to release time to care.
The argument is compelling as a quick win for helping extremely-busy people and addressing what might sometimes be an overlooked digital opportunity.
NHS organisations carry out many audits. Some are compulsory and help to inform national understanding of specific services. But other, locally-led audits, are about more than meeting data requirements for central bodies.
They can show organisations at a local and granular level opportunities to improve their services for the better, to create efficiencies, and to monitor compliance with clinical best practice.
As one audit manager recently told me – they are an opportunity to measure things that can make all the difference for patients.
The argument is compelling as a quick win for helping extremely-busy people and addressing what might sometimes be an overlooked digital opportunity
With the right technology supporting easier and more-impactful ways of capturing and analysing data, audit could help in other ways, too.
The early weeks of 2023 saw NHS England release new guidance around Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) indicators and metrics.
In the document 17 CQUINS set out priority areas where NHS England expects to see improvement in the next year. This includes everything from CQUINS designed to reduce pressure ulcers, through to metrics and indicators around malnutrition, or the diagnosis and treatment of lower leg wounds, for example.
CQUINs form part of the method for calculating annual payments for NHS trusts – and so measuring compliance has both clinical and financial implications for healthcare providers.
Data required for performance against some of the CQUINS is already likely to be covered by existing national data reporting requirements.
However, NHS England also makes clear that for others, local data is required.
Effective audit systems could help in the collection of data, and potentially could make that data even more valuable locally.
Clinical audit is fundamentally about delivering efficient and quality healthcare.
But the process itself doesn’t need to be a burden.
The technology exists to make audit easier and more meaningful, especially for the busy people keeping our health service running.