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The true value of accurate data for NHS finance departments

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In modern healthcare, accurate financial data holds immense importance – especially within  NHS finance departments. This data serves as the foundation for efficient operations and strategic decision-making, influencing various aspects from budget allocation to patient care. Without it, the solid foundation to support important decision making in these areas can easily be lost behind fragmented, missing or difficult-to-reach information.

By Jo Hammond, CHC Project Manager at IEG4

NHS Digital states that it “seeks to minimise inaccuracies and the effect of missing and invalid data but the ultimate responsibility for data accuracy lies with the organisations providing the data.” This meets NHS Digital’s obligation to comply with the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) Code of Practice for Statistics which says that “producers of statistics and data should explain clearly how they assure themselves that statistics and data are accurate, reliable, coherent and timely.”

We know that the emphasis on accurate data is recognised at the highest level, and Trusts and other NHS organisations must also pay close attention to this too.

By grasping the myriad of benefits to prioritising good data, we can better understand the pivotal role that it plays in maintaining the financial stability of the NHS and its capacity to provide exceptional healthcare services.

So how does accurate data empower NHS finance departments? How can it streamline operations and positively affect patient outcomes?

Improved financial management

When working with budgets that are often tight, and when handling many competing priorities, it’s vital to understand where the money is best placed to avoid any areas left struggling. Accurate data allows for precise forecasting and budgeting, ensuring that funds are allocated efficiently. It also supports healthcare teams in long-term financial planning and overall strategy development. It can be used to identify areas of overspending and inefficiency, enabling targeted cost-cutting measures. 

In May this year, NHS England revealed that proposals set out in a joint NHS England and NICE consultation will give MedTech developers a new way to access the necessary funding to fast-track “clinically and cost-effective” products to be used in the NHS. The accurate cost-benefit analyses and return on investment (ROI) calculations that good data can provide, can mean that  essential tech upgrades can be considered with confidence. We know that the continued drive for digitisation is a priority for the NHS, and doing so in a cost-efficient and financially sensible way is key to its long-term success. 

As NHS finances are so closely scrutinised, it’s important that we have data that allows for the monitoring of financial performance against set targets and industry benchmarks and ensures full regulatory compliance. This in turn will give stakeholders the confidence that money is prioritised fairly, any tech upgrades are well-thought-out, and encourages the investment that so many areas need. 

A well-serviced workforce

The workforce is the lifeblood of our healthcare system, employing over one million people. Retaining staff should be a key priority, and part of doing so is making sure that basic needs are met. The expectation is that payroll processing and benefits are faultless, however if financial data is inaccurate, in different places, or difficult-to-access, then mistakes are easily made. Human error is a naturally occurring event, but enhanced processes such as intelligent document processing can mitigate that. In that context, users of financial systems have to fill in each required field in one place before they can move to the next step. This process removes gaps in the data and ensures responses are accurate by not allowing different fields to be amended without a reason. Many processes like this are automated, but there is little point in automating a process without ensuring that inaccuracies cannot occur.

All of this leads to greater operational efficiency, and in turn a happier, more satisfied and more productive workforce.

A more satisfied workforce is more open and able to work collaboratively on digital platforms, which is particularly essential between finance and other departments, and only possible through shared data and integrated systems.  

Patient-centric data management

Of course, improved patient outcomes remain at the heart of healthcare digital strategy. The idea of patient-centred care underpins so many day-to-day clinical decisions, so why should that not also apply to data management? Creating the best patient experience possible is the ultimate goal, and at the centre of that experience is trust.

Accurate data is transparent, and gives reliable information to stakeholders, including government bodies, donors, and the public – who are ultimately the patients. By ensuring robust data accuracy, it enhances credibility, which is crucial for securing the trust of the people under the care of the NHS. 

Data’s true value

The value of good quality data cannot be understated. It enhances budget management, cost control, resource allocation, transparency, and allows the finance teams to work as analysts instead of data inputters. With the benefits undeniable, how do we make sure that the NHS is able to make them a reality within its everyday data management? 

Working with the right digital partner is the first and most important step. As part of the continuing journey towards digitisation, providers of data solutions must prioritise both financial efficiencies and saving time, while offering automated processes and thorough analytics. The analytics will help the NHS to improve services, cost-save, accurately report and look at long-term trends. In short, the data will be stronger. 

It is essential for the finance departments in the NHS to operate effectively and sustainably. It underpins sound financial management, ultimately contributing to the financial health and service quality of the NHS.

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