Opinion: Are our NHS data silos a risk to patient care?

Having a single repository that takes ownership of the data should be a far more effective way of providing access to vital clinical information, argues BridgeHead Software’s European Medical Officer Saif Abed

Posted 26 September 2017 by Gary Flood

Dr Saif Abed, EMEA Chief Medical Officer at data storage and management specialist BridgeHead Software, shares some thoughts on the essential role of data in delivering patient care in the NHS. 

When it comes to delivering excellent healthcare all clinicians rely on one critical resource.


Not just any data, mind you. It has to be from a credible source – the patient, a relative, another healthcare professional or a responsible agency. Medical devices only communicate point of care data, such as heart rate, ECG trace and blood pressure rather than the rich qualitative data of a patient history.

However, one of the challenges for clinicians in years gone by was that it would be often difficult to access paper records purely because of the physical barrier of the records being in a different location. Yes, paper records could be scanned, faxed or sent, but most clinicians would simply repeat taking a patient history rather than wait.

So what would someone like me have to do when seeing a new patient? I’d have to take a complete patient history from scratch based on only the information that was handed over by another clinician or perhaps a referral letter. In a world where patient care was becoming more demanding against a backdrop of less time this clearly was not going to be a sustainable way of doing things.

The future was clearly digital and slowly the NHS started to adopt IT systems as a part of a journey to being paperless. However, this created its own digital version of the paper record problem I have just described! Essentially, if a patient needed to visit multiple healthcare organisations in their region, multiple data silos now existed, linked to applications in each of those places.

However, none of these systems had a means of being linked together to share or access data. Clinicians, to this day, have to see and create management plans often with incomplete information because of barriers to access. This is a pressing problem as the patient population is becoming increasingly complex as they have multiple conditions at any given time requiring multiple treatments and interventions.

This all begs the question then of how can we make it easier for different healthcare organisations to still use the applications that they prefer without hampering care co-ordination?

One way to consider doing this is having a central hub of data that is primed to be able to access and share data without being restricted by application specific proprietary tags. Having an Independent Clinical Archive (ICA) like this would form a type of health information exchange that supports clinicians within an organisation to have a single source of truth, whilst allowing clinicians in other organisations to access specific data they need in a way which is compatible with their applications and viewers.

Achieving this type of outcome is great not just from the perspective of the clinical user experience, but at a strategic level too. One of the common themes evolving in Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and their associated Local Digital Roadmaps (LDRs) is a focus on integrated care. A lack of application interoperability is clearly going to hamper achieving this goal. Yet, trying to connect all these disparate applications together with one another would be tremendously time consuming and expensive.

Once again, having a single repository that takes ownership of the data should be a far more effective way of providing access to clinical information – especially as it would not be affected by the application ecosystem around it changing over time. You are effectively future proofing a core part of an LDR.

Clinical effectiveness is increasingly measured by the ability of healthcare organisations to provide high quality care in a timely fashion. Indeed, there are growing calls to even change the way hospitals are reimbursed to emphasise outcomes rather than activities. Given this is an inevitable direction, it makes sense to manage clinical data in a way that opens it up to sharing and access across regions rather than being trapped in application silos.

Bridgehead is a leading provider of healthcare data and storage management solutions, trusted by over 1,200 hospitals worldwide. BridgeHead helps healthcare providers overcome challenges stemming from rising data volumes and increasing storage costs while delivering peace of mind around how to store, protect and share clinical and administrative information.