“Realising the benefits of a transparency agenda will take more than just making data available”
In the week that Jeremy Hunt continued to push the benefits of transparency across health and social care, Phil Stylianides, Director at Picker, asks if simply making data available is enough to realise those benefits.
When we think of transparency, we often associate it with clarity. For example, using a pane of transparent glass to replace a solid wall of a room gives us the ability to see what lies on the other side of that wall. However, just because you can now see what lies beyond the wall, does not necessarily mean you can understand what is happening or what is present.
In short, achieving clarity about what lies on the other side of the wall requires much more than the simple act of making it visible. Transparency must go beyond simply making data and information available. It is also a commitment to ensuring that data and information is both robust and representative; authoritative. As well as relevant to, and understood by its audience; accessible.
When these three elements exist, the potential benefits of transparency within health and social care are significant. It can:
- Increase understanding of the quality and efficacy of care provision, making it easier to hold providers and regulators to account
- Support those delivering care to improve quality by comparing and assessing performance against that of similar professionals and organisations
- Increase people’s ability to make informed choices about their care
Unfortunately more often than not the potential of transparency is undermined by making data available that is neither authoritative nor accessible. When this happens data can be both misleading and misunderstood resulting in inaccurate assessments and/or poor decisions. We can no longer trust what we are being shown and are left with no more clarity than we had before the data was made available. Heightened levels of public scrutiny and general awareness of differing levels of quality in healthcare are driving an increasing demand for transparency; a trend already evident in other sectors, such as finance and education. Combine this with an unprecedented level of social media interaction that produces a huge amount of anecdotal and informal data, and it has never been more important to realise the potential of and embrace transparency in a health and social care setting.
But to improve care quality and allow patients’ to make informed decisions about their own care, transparency has to be built upon data that is more than just available but also authoritative and accessible, whether at an individual or systems level.
Make data available
Allowing this type of open access and scrutiny by pro-actively making data available, shows that there is nothing to hide. Furthermore, doing this whether or not the data relates to a positive or negative outcome or experience, starts to make it feel like those doing so, are doing so honestly. Add to this openness about the results of any actions taken and the act of making data available can start to build trust, not only in the quality of the care itself but also the individuals and organisations delivering it.
Ensure data is authoritative
Making data available, can go a long way in starting to help develop trust in decisions, activity, and behaviour. But how do we know the data itself can be trusted?
For this to happen data needs to be authoritative. It must be robust; created using proven methods and tools (whether quantitative or qualitative) where any limitations are known and communicated. It must be reliable; free from bias and/or unstated outside influences. And it must be as representative as possible, whether revealing the care experiences of a particular group, or the clinical outcomes and mortality rates for a particular procedure. If the data is robust, reliable and representative it is data and information that can be trusted.
Ensure data is accessible
Yet for transparency to have real value the data must also be accessible. If we cannot interpret and act on the data that is presented, then all efforts to ensure it is available and authoritative will have been wasted. We must look to present data in a way that is both understood and relevant to those using it, increasing the opportunities for people to engage with it and act on the lessons.
Transparency must go beyond simply making data and information available. For a transparency agenda to be truly effective there must also be a commitment to ensuring the data is authoritative and accessible. It is only in this way that the current demand for transparency can hope to support Mr Hunt’s vision of “truly world class performance.”