Population health is for life, not just for a pandemic
30 November 2020
By Brian Waters, chief executive of Graphnet Health
The year 2020 will be one to remember, or perhaps more appropriately forget… The pressures of the pandemic have highlighted and changed so many things across health and social care, among them how aggregated data from across all health and social care settings is now at the forefront of local, regional, and national activities. It has become critical in the decision-making needed to respond to the pandemic on the one hand, while trying to maintain normal services on the other. This may be one lesson of 2020 that we don’t want to forget.
Regions which already had advanced shared care records with patient record repositories in place have had a considerable advantage. They have been able to leverage this data to track and target their communities and cohorts of patients in real-time. We have been working with our customers round the clock to develop new views and dashboards to support their Covid response.
However, even in these care communities, the necessity of dealing with the pandemic as a complete health, social care and public health system has accelerated thinking. Covid-19 has served to amplify many of the things that we already knew the data could tell us, but which were difficult to focus on because of everyday operational pressures.
It is now a daily event for public health professionals, primary care network and provider leaders to discuss the combined data and to design targeted responses to the pandemic at a local level. Examples include setting up virtual wards to monitor Covid patients remotely using pulse oximetry, and using information about the wider determinants that impact the disease to target specific prevention initiatives at high-risk groups and localities.
Alongside this clinical and operational response, we can now also evaluate and analyse the data for new risk factors that may be specific to or higher in different regions of the country, or even identify variance between local communities in the same town.
Holding the gains to make lasting change
One important legacy of the pandemic is likely to be increased public awareness of how individual and wider lifestyle factors increase our personal risk. This suggests that once the crisis has passed, there will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage the population with a better understanding of how they can impact their own wellbeing.
To go hand in hand with the change in personal attitudes, the NHS has in the last few months made real steps forwards in patient engagement, remote monitoring and virtual consultations. The communication channels between us as individuals and the healthcare system have never been more open. On top of this, the accepted views of the wider determinants of a population’s health are being fully road-tested using the pandemic to track short-term and long-term effects.
With this new understanding and access to wider health and care data, now is perhaps the time to go further than tackling the immediate pandemic, to look longer term and use the tools that have emerged to target real change in lifestyle-related conditions and to address health inequalities. Should we be looking forward to the days when all us over 40s receive an annual health ‘statement’ from our GPs showing us how our personal medical history, lifestyle factors and circumstances will likely impact our future health, as well as signposting services that can help us change? It might sound far-fetched, but the data to support it is already with us, and it might only be a matter of time…