In hospital. Lovely nurses. Got MRSA. LOL!

An avalanche of health data is about to hit the NHS if the Government’s reforms are followed through. In place of productivity-focused measurement of how many patients and procedures hospitals and surgeons carry out, the emphasis will be on how successful those treatments were. Customer satisfaction will become a key part of how patients and their GPs assess where to go.

Much of this data does not yet exist and will have to be created. Integrating customer feedback on aspects such as feeling better or worse as well as hospital cleanliness and service levels will also need to be addressed.

As data practitoners in the commercial world already know, none of this will be easy. Measuring inputs and setting targets for what you want to do is far simpler. That is why both marketers and governments tend to track how much activity they have got for their money.

Once you start looking at what changes that money has actually bought, things get more difficult. For marketers, even moving from cost per click to cost per sale is hard. The divide between acquisition and retention in most companies is structural, with marketing activity intended to drive prospects into the customer management engine, without worrying itself about what happens next.

The same has been true of health spending – a lot of people are unwell, so the answer must be to put more doctors, nurses and hospitals in place to treat them. If you want to look at whether those people get better, you immediately face the challenge of when to begin and end that measurement.

Does a treatment phase start from the first visit to a doctor or from being referred to hospital? How long after a treatment should a patient be considered to be better or worse – one day, one week, one month, one year?

On top of that, the voice of the customer or patient needs to be considered. Marketers know only too well that a very small percentage of their customer base will ever express an opinion (and many of these are what journalists know as the “green ink brigade”). Should these views be weighted according to the difficulty of the condition that patient has?

After all, somebody with long-term illness will not get suddenly better and is more prone to sensitivity about small issues with a hospital they are seeing on a regular basis. Frequent flyers show the same behaviour, complaining about minor problems more vocally.

Commercial partners will undoubtedly be asked to provide some of the resources need to get these new data sets up and running. It will be interesting to see whether the cutting edge of customer insight becomes the leading edge of health care assessment.

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