Keeping sufficient ICU beds immediately available in hospitals for the most serious and critical cases has been a longstanding challenge for hospitals - but good data fuelled by analytics is changing things for the better.
As pressures the health system increases, experts at the coal face have argued the long awaited shift from paper to digital data across hospitals in Australia is helping to drastically reduce the number of avoidable admissions to the intensive care unit.
Speaking during a webinar convened by the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA), chief clinical information officer at Epworth Healthcare's eight hospitals, Dr Damian Claydon-Platt openly questioned what was the best way to free-up the most intensely focused care for those who need it most.
“How do I intervene so early that the ICU is a point of last resort, not a first place you go when things go wrong?” Claydon-Platt said.
Sufficient and timely clinical information flow is imperative for any ICU, making them inherently data-intensive spaces.
With data a key currency for health practitioners, it means they pay close attention outputs, responses, measure and vital signs to constantly assess a patient’s condition and establish how they got there in the first place.
Data signals of deterioration, or recovery, are literally what move an ICU.
But there's much more clinical and health information with serious near-term value that can be extracted when data feeds are put through the hoops of analytics.
Claydon-Platt observed that for a long time, data analytics has mainly been used for descriptive purposes after the fact; such as in monthly audit meetings, registry and reporting procedures, and morbidity and mortality meetings.
“We look back and see what’s happened and in an analogue environment. We’ve done that on a paper record and [now] we’re moving into a digital environment. That’s starting to make it easier for us to actually see what we’ve been doing.”
Claydon-Platt conceded that while completely eliminating the need for an ICU is an impossibility, better integration of data analytics will result in improved health management - and more accurate predictions of patient outcomes.
“Going into this digital space, it enables us to bring that computing technology in, and start to get a bit predictive and start to identify that patient that might get sick," Claydon-Platt said.
Or identify the population that’s at risk, or identify an area in a hospital or in the continuity of care journey that needs to actually be addressed.”
But there's a rub.
Claydon-Platt warned that an information paradox is emerging.
More data can better clinical outcomes, however scandals such as with HealthEngine and Cambridge Analytica have sharply highlighted how the misuse of patient data can undermine health initiatives.
Aberrances aside, Claydon-Platt said bringing data analytics to the “coal-face” of clinical practice will “help clinicians work at the top of their game all the time”.
Put simply, saving lives must trumps feeding lawyers.
"Anything that could give me an ability to identify a deteriorating patient earlier, that allows me to intervene earlier, to minimise the deterioration in that patient and improve their clinical outcomes,” Claydon-Platt said of analytics..
“It’s a fantastic opportunity from an intensive care point of view."