Circle Opinion

The difference between reporting and insight

Susan Brooks

Data is no use to NHS organisations without the expertise and tools to make it actionable

Data has become more and more significant in all industries and settings. The NHS is no exception. With a huge amount of patient, service and performance data at its disposal, there should be a wealth of insight available to help shape patient care and develop the best services in every community.

But there’s a very important caveat. Everyone knows that raw data doesn’t provide actionable information. That’s why it’s generally issued in the form of reports. But what do the reports tell you?

Reporting on data is not the same as generating meaningful and transformative insight from it.

It’s common for NHS organisations to produce reports that list statistics and objects without the context or perspective that could give them meaning as a basis for decisions. These reports can tell us what has happened and provide headline figures for costs, volumes and timeframes, but they don’t reveal insight.

Drawing insight from data means looking at it through a new lens. It could mean evaluating how past performance could influence future behaviours and decisions. It could mean modelling multiple hypothetical scenarios to decide the best approach from several options.

Data reporting is a valid exercise when you’re monitoring performance against fixed objectives. But it’s generally a historical, static activity. The data insight that NHS organisations need is about planning for the future and adjusting programmes in-flight to reflect the latest information and evolving patient needs. It’s about scenario modelling. It’s about bringing together different datasets, to gain more and more detailed and specific understanding of the causes of outcomes and what influences them. This kind of data insight is truly transformative because it allows NHS organisations to continually scrutinise, optimise and innovate in their services and care.

The impact of true insight on NHS services

Sarah Culkin, Interim Head of the Analytics Unit at NHSX, and Sukhmeet Panesar, Deputy Director within NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Data, Analysis and Intelligence Service describe the impact of data insight: “Knowledge is power. In healthcare, it is often life-saving. The NHS generates a huge amount of data which can be analysed and used to drive improvements in care and how services are run. Ultimately, data analysis results in improved patient outcomes and experience, as well as optimal use of NHS resources.”

Trusts and NHS service providers know that data is valuable. Many have already invested in data solutions and tools designed to store and analyse information. But not all are generating powerful and potentially life-saving insight. Digital insight for healthcare is a constantly evolving field, with new tools and technologies emerging to extract more relevant information. It can be hard to keep pace with the range of data resources on offer and to know how to prioritise system development and investment.

Acquiring and acting on insight demands data literacy in teams

Sarah Culkin and Sukhmeet Panesar highlight another key issue that affects many NHS organisations in their quest to use data to improve services: “In general, the NHS is failing to make the most of its data because there are not enough people with the right analytical skills to make sense of the information being collected.”

Data insight and analytics is a fast-evolving field. Without training, mentoring and support from specialists who understand the NHS environment as well as the potential of data, NHS managers and analysts cannot make informed decisions and harness the data they have to best effect. Education and skills are key – both for general data literacy in NHS clinical, management, operations and finance teams, and for analytics and technology in the data science teams who support them.

With all the data you collect, are you making the most of it to support crucial trust or service decisions and to deliver responsive, patient-centric care that meets real-time needs?

If you’d like to find out more about CACI’s Data Maturity Assessment service, or our data and analytics training, please get in touch. It’s all part of our HISC (Healthcare Insight Success Cycle) data optimisation approach for NHS organisations. Find out more by downloading our brochure Spearheading your data journey to improve patient outcomes.

Is knowledge and skills a barriers to transformative insight for your NHS organisation? Working with a specialist NHS data transformation partner could help you achieve best value from your data and budgets.

Find out how CACI’s healthcare team can provide advice on developing and maintaining your technology and offer staff training for data literacy and skills, so you can sustain your data journey from within. For further information, visit or website or get in touch with our NHS client team.

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Susan Brooks