Decision-making should be a science

Posted : September 28, 2023 -

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Rony Arafin, CEO of AphA and Kate Cheema, Director of Evaluation and Insights at UCLPartners write

How professionalising healthcare analytics helps in unlocking the power of data for informed decision-making in the NHS which is a vital investment.

Effective, high-quality decision-making, whether small and day-to-day or big and strategic is the vehicle that drives your organisation forward. And make no mistake, decision-making is hard. It may be tempting to think of “good” decisions being an art form limited to those with seniority, experience and a good “gut’ for these things.

But, emerging research unequivocally shows that a scientific approach supports better decisions.

This requires a diversity of perspectives, objective and precise evidence where it can be sourced, and a willingness to challenge our own inbuilt assumptions and biases.

The “art” of decision-making is an individual pursuit, while the “science” of decision-making is a team sport.

We might be tempted to think advances in digital will have taken care of the “evidence” elements of decision-making. The wealth of structured and unstructured data available to the NHS surely provides invaluable insights into everything from clinical and non-clinical operations to patient experience, behaviours and population health. Things which are all grist to the mill of operational and strategic decision-makers. However, the NHS remains surprisingly poor at translating this raw material into decision-grade evidence.

Data has previously been labelled the “new oil”, primarily because there’s an awful lot of commercial opportunity in finding and using it. It also takes skills and talent to take the crude stuff and derive useful things from it. The skills and talents required to transfer raw data into high-quality evidence go far beyond summarising and describing.

This is the work of professional analysts.


Without their skills and expertise, raw data remains little more than a collection of numbers, lacking the context, and interpretation required to inform decisions. And there’s the rub, interpretation.

It’s the interpretation of complex data that turns it into something useful; that makes it valuable. At this point, the professional analyst goes beyond supplying the evidence piece of the puzzle, adding to the diversity of perspectives. Analysts can identify and challenge biases in the data and indeed the original question, refining and polishing the mechanisms used to make decisions.

This is what we mean when we talk about professional analytics.

Most NHS organisations have access to data and information tools and can slice and dice the data to show trends and comparisons. All useful stuff. But liken it for a moment to hiring a tradesperson to build the foundations of your house, anyone can grab the right tools and chuck some cement down a trench.

Like the consequences of a major organisational decision, you’ll be living with those foundations for a long time. If they go wrong it could be disastrous! So it’s easy to see why you’re better off getting the professionals in.

Professionalising your analytics workforce provides major benefits. For one, you’re creating a highly capable technical workforce that can really exploit the proverbial oil field of NHS data. They can go way beyond retrospective reporting and predict future trends and outcomes, develop machine-learning-driven automation and provide models to test potential strategies.

A second major benefit is the human factor.

A well-trained, well-supported workforce with a sense of personal value and clear career opportunities will pay back dividends in terms of the quality and breadth of evidence they produce. A professional team that’s constantly learning and improving their skills will be able to better explore and explain the nuances of the evidence they provide, critically analysing their outputs and framing them in relation to the purpose of each decision.

With the right investment, your organisation’s analytics team can become an indispensable partner in improving decision quality.


So how can you make this investment?

Professionalising analytics isn’t just about providing training in analytical skills. It’s also about incorporating analytical needs into professional development frameworks like that of the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts, which is standing as the Data and Analytics professional body for the Health and Care analytics workforce.

With the right competency frameworks and guidance, NHS employers can be assured of the skills they are employing and be better able to deploy these effectively.

In turn, analysts can see a clear career development path that will help to retain their talent.

Professionalising analytics offers remarkable benefits, but these are not without challenges. Right now in the NHS, there are ongoing issues of data quality, a fragmented digital infrastructure and a pervasive skills gap that cannot be addressed piecemeal.

These issues show up as huge variations in analytical capacity and usage across the NHS. Some organisations are developing real-time in-house AI models to predict capacity bottlenecks – while others still send performance data by fax (true story).

As technology advances at pace and NHS data becomes ever more abundant, embracing professional analytics as an integral part of decision-making processes will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of success both for individual organisations and for the NHS as a whole.

Having teams who can use these tools effectively to find important insights will make all the difference.

It doesn’t make sense to spend much on fancy technology without investing in professionals to use it. You can have all the high-tech tools and supercomputers in the world, but without people who know how to get the best out of them, you’re throwing your money away, a waste of public funds.

Develop your analytics team and you’ll be rewarded with objective insights and trend predictions that help you develop personalised solutions, manage risks, optimise resource allocation, inform strategy formulation and facilitate real-time decision-making.

In supporting the professionalisation of your healthcare analysts, you’re not just improving evidence quality, you are investing in a thoughtful and knowledgeable workforce that will bring integral insights to your decision-making team.


Are you a leader working across health and care and believe that data is the new currency for transformation? Join us at the inaugural congress which combines HSJ’s access and understanding of NHS leadership challenges and AphA’s deep knowledge of the transformative potential of analytics for a unique and collaborative conversation.

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