Let’s talk DATA

Collecting data is one thing, but what are you going to do with it? CSP adviser Nina Paterson suggests a way forward.


If you were at Physiotherapy UK, you will have heard Karen Middleton’s Founders Lecture. The CSP’s chief executive talked about her hopes for the future of the physiotherapy profession, stressing that she wasn’t interested in the success of the profession for its own sake, but because of the difference the profession makes to patients’ lives.

So how do you know you know you’re making a difference?

You have to be able to demonstrate the difference, and data is the key to doing this. Data matters because it tell you what you need to know about your patients, service users and clients. It tells you about the populations you serve and can help you argue your case for a change to your service, or to demonstrate that your service is cost effective, clinically effective and of a high quality.

So what do you do with the data that you collect?

In today’s regulated and quality-assured health and social care world, everyone collects data (patient outcome measures, data for audits or  commissioners, did not attend rates, or patient length of stay, for example).

But what do you do with the data? If you’re collecting data just because you have to, then it’s time for a rethink. It shouldn’t just be about ticking the compulsory boxes, it should be to make a difference to patient care.

It is of no value to anyone just to collect data, put it into a database and then do nothing with it. During a recent discussion at a CSP Physiotherapy Works local event, a colleague admitted that she keeps data just in case someone asks to see it.

At the event we asked people to make a pledge to show how they would help promote the ‘Physiotherapy Works’ message. Her pledge was that she planned to make data work for her, her service and – most importantly – her patients.

How do you make data work for you? This depends on what you want to achieve: whether that is service redesign, improving the quality of patient care, and/or demonstrating impact.

You only need to look at the CSP Awards for Excellence from last year to find great examples of teams using data that they routinely collect to do all of the above.

We can’t cover each of these in detail so let’s take a look at one example to illustrate some principles: the Trinity Hospice therapy team.

So now you’ve heard about the hospice team, it’s time to think about your own practice or service. What change would you like to facilitate? Be clear about why you want to make a change.

Think about what you already collect. Do you already have the data to hand to make the case or evaluate your service? In which case use it – analyse it, distil it, and act on it. If you don’t collect data, or you’ve identified gaps then make a plan, decide what you need to collect and make it happen.

Look at your data, what does it tell you? If the answer is ‘nothing’, or ‘nothing new’, then what could it tell you if you tweaked it, or used it alongside other data you collect? Or has that been collected elsewhere?

It might be worth taking some time to think about what data you and your organisation collect.

Don’t forget to look at external datasets that are available. Do you know what datasets are collected nationally?  See here, for example.  Or where to find examples of best practice and how to use the evidence already in existence?

Remember to act on what the data tells you. There’s no point collecting it as an exercise in itself.

Use the experience to help others learn and develop.

The process itself stretched the Trinity Hospice therapy team, helping them to identify, and develop their knowledge and skills.

The result? A more skilled and more motivated team. Now they’ve got this far, they’re sharing best practice with other local hospice therapy leads and are able to learn from each other.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn or brush up your skills you might want to sign up for one of the Physiotherapy Works events. The afternoon workshop focuses on how to use data to bring about change.

For more information, see here. Or, if you are more experienced, why not do what the team is doing and share that learning with others?fl

A new-look outpatient pathway

The Trinity Hospice therapy team redesigned the outpatient pathway. The new outpatient service provided patients with the opportunity to self-refer and participate in a range of individual or group activities depending on individual’s need.

Why did they do it? To quote Louise Malone, a CSP member who nominated the team: ‘The changes to the service adds life to the days of the service users.’

How did they use data, and what was the outcome?

Look at the data

The therapy team were already collecting data – did not attends (DNA), unable to attends (UTA), patient reported outcomes and patient reported experience. They looked at their data to see what it told them about their patients and their service, and made changes to their practice on the back of what that data told them.

Involve everyone

All the therapy team were involved, including the occupational therapist and the therapy assistant, so it wasn’t just one person’s responsibility.

External datasets

They examined local, national and international datasets and guidelines – from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, National Cancer Action Team (now NHS Improving Quality) and the European Association of Palliative Care. The data and evidence was used to identify more appropriate outcome measures for patient assessments and evaluation.

Change what you collect to make it robust and meaningful

The team identified areas where they required more information particularly from service users, and set up a focus group to collect additional data. They now have baseline data to evaluate the service.

Act on what the data tells you

The therapy team acted on feedback from service users by revising the classes, which reduced waiting times and had a positive influence on patient satisfaction (100 per cent). They shared this data (DNA/UTA rates) in monthly update meetings with other teams, enhancing the working dynamic between the teams. They also used these rates to highlight the service to the multidisciplinary team, thus increasing the profile of the therapy service.

Nina Paterson

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