Creating meaningful data

What data is worth collecting and what can you do with it?


What is data?

‘Data’ is facts and statistics collected for reference or analysis. It can be quantitative (for example, how many times we do something) or qualitative (how well we do something).

In healthcare, data can be related to specific health conditions, quality of life, health-related outcome measures or even to the number of appointments attended.

Healthcare data can be at an individual, local or even population level, and this can make it seem complex.

We create data through everyday clinical tasks and patient contacts such as adding information into a clinical-record system or asking patients to complete a questionnaire. Collection of data can be automatic, using a template on a clinical system, for example, or a manual process such as completing a form or spreadsheet.

Why is data collection important?

Data can be used as a tool to help tell a story or provide evidence to help inform changes such as service improvement or when a service is being challenged to reduce provision.

Healthcare generates a lot of data from a variety of sources. It is important to be clear what information you are trying to gather, and why it is being collected and analysed.

It may be for an audit for quality improvement, such as infection control/handwashing or Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs), in which data collected at an individual patient level can also be used at a service or national level.

Data is also often used in research. You may be asked to collect specific data for a research study; or data collected regularly may be used to produce retrospective analysis of how a condition or group of patients is managed and the outcomes.

Examples of data collection

National examples

The Physiotherapy Hip Fracture Sprint Audit ran from May to October 2017. Physiotherapists working with hip fractures were asked to provide data around rehabilitation, pathways, frequency and type of fractures for patients over 60.

The key findings and recommendations were then mapped to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence hip-fracture management guideline and have been used at the local level to inform changes in clinical practice.

Involvement in this audit by clinicians demonstrates the appetite physios have to use data within their practice for the benefit of patients and service development.

In Scotland, the Allied Health Professionals Operational Measures (AHPOMs) team within the Information Services Division, National Services Scotland, has been working over several years to develop a minimum dataset for allied health professionals (AHPs), creating a national data repository.

Local examples

The community therapy teams at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust use a visual management control board as a way of gathering data to improve performance and productivity. Data is collected on a variety of metrics such as number of referrals received, number of patients waiting to be seen and team capacity. The board itself is a simple whiteboard in a central location in the office and all staff are responsible for adding data to it. This is a really good way to see the team position at a glance.

Connect Health has developed a clinical-performance management dashboard that captures patient-reported outcome-measure data. It is based on the EQ-5D metric, a standardised quality of life measure.

Clinicians use EQ-5D at first appointment and at discharge. Data is then pulled out of the clinical system by computer scripts and moved to a dashboard. The dashboard shows overall change in EQ-5D and this can be filtered by service or clinical condition and even down to individual clinician level. The data is often used to help inform service design and identify variations in clinical practice.

What can data do for you?

  • Collecting data allows you to self-audit your own practice and critically review your skillset.
  • You can audit your reach on Twitter. Use analytics data to look at your reach and inform how to alter your tweets for maximum exposure.
  • It allows you to engage with patients – for example, through satisfaction surveys.
  • Collecting patient outcomes, which allows you to establish changes across a patient’s care episode.
  • Measuring your performance against key indicators – for example, the number of new patients seen or the new-to-review ratio.

What should I do next?

Consider what data you are collecting and why, then discuss with your peers and managers about how that data is and could be used. What other data would be useful to collect and why?

We should always be challenging the need for the data we collect and checking whether it is accurate and fit for purpose.

Further information

NHS Improvement has some useful resources about how to collect data:

This podcast with Lesley Holdsworth is about influencing change but gives some good examples of how data can inform change.


  • Helen Robson
  • Helen Harrison
  • Peter Grinbergs
  • Sandra Harding
  • Laura Cameron

Edited by Daniel Allen

Last reviewed: