What a difference data can make

Written by
Cllr Paul Kelly, COSLA Spokesperson for Health and Social Care

Health, social work and social care services have for many years faced unrelenting pressures. We’re delivering services in an extremely challenging financial climate; we have an aging demographic, and we have significant recruitment and retention issues across the sector. The COVID pandemic seems to have exacerbated these pressures and it’s fair to say that we all recognise that delivering services in the same way is not an option.

Our challenge is to find a way of delivering sustainable public services across the whole of the health, social work and social care system, and to improve outcomes for people in the face of increasing demands and pressures.

The COVID pandemic underlined the critical role of data and intelligence within public services, highlighting the importance of timely, relevant and good quality intelligence for decision-making.  Since then, much work has been progressing around data sharing, data collaboration and data innovation across the sector.

In February 2023, COSLA and the Scottish Government published Scotland’s first data strategy for health and social care. The strategy set out our joint vision for making the best use of data in the design and delivery of health, social work and social care services.

The strategy has three ambitions:

  • Empower People – by giving greater access to and control over their health and social care data, where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
  • Empower Professionals – to have the confidence and ability to gather, safely use, and share data.
  • Support Research and Innovation – by ensuring data is readily accessible through secure and safe means for research and innovation.

We’re now a year on and publishing our first Data Strategy Update report has given us the opportunity to reflect on our journey so far and how the strategies ambitions have guided our programmes of work, collaborations and achievements.

A great example of a collaborative programme of work that aligns with the vision and ambitions of this strategy is the Shared Alarm Receiving Centre Platform technology which has been a key development of the digital telecare programmes of work. The work has been led by the Scottish Government Digital Health and Care Division (DHAC) and COSLA’s Digital Office, in collaboration with elected members and councils across Scotland.

This innovative, cloud-based common platform for Alarm Receiving Centres (Shared ARC) across Scotland supports the digitisation of a much relied upon service across Scotland, which has up to 142,000 active citizen users. The move to a digital cloud-based system not only ensures continuity beyond the analogue telephony switch-off in 2025, but also supports the required shift towards more proactive and preventative approaches to supporting citizens, including the integration of Telecare data to support assessment, anticipating need, and supporting early interventions.

The Shared ARC has the option of sharing data, both accumulated and live, with all organisations in the service ecosystem around a citizen in receipt of Telecare support to deliver better outcomes.

Leveraging data from citizens wearable devices or telecare devices connected to the Platform offers numerous opportunities and benefits.  Using predictive analytics risks can be identified earlier enabling improved chronic disease management and reducing unscheduled admissions to hospital. In addition, using aggregated and anonymised data from wearable and telecare devices will inform evidence-based policy decisions across health and social care.

A key requirement of the recent procurement for the shared platform was the ability to integrate it with wider health and social care systems using Application Programming Interface (APIs) and open protocols. This seamless data exchange will enable real time access to information ensuring that staff have access to the right information to support timely decision making and ensure that our much-stretched resources are used as effectively as possible.

Alongside the development of the Shared ARC, work has been progressing to develop a data set for telecare service providers in Scotland. Our commitment to standardisation and interoperability has been at the forefront of this initiative. This standardised approach not only simplifies administrative tasks but also provides services with more consistent and reliable data. By driving standardisation and data-driven practices, we are laying the groundwork for a more responsive and proactive system. This also opens a wide array of opportunities for innovation, research, and improved service delivery.

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