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Blog How we're improving our data dashboards

Alistair Bullward, Product Owner for Open Data and Data Visualisation, provides an update on our open and live data dashboards that are helping to battle COVID-19 and help build a better NHS for the future.

COVID-19 work has been our top priority for nearly a year now but it is also critically important for us to develop long term capability within our health systems once the pandemic has abated.

It feels like an eternity since I wrote my last blog about COVID-19 data dashboards back in August; so much has happened since then. So what has the team been up to?

Collage image of 2 men jogging with face masks surrounded by graph lines and hexagons.

New dashboards and services


Coronavirus in your area

We went live with our Coronavirus in Your Area dashboard in November 2020 and in less than 2 months we received over 1 million hits, as of mid-February we have had 2.5 million views. This coverage has been greatly helped by links and articles appearing on the prominent news sites and the subsequent high ranking on Google search results.

I believe this is our first truly public facing dashboard and following some teething issues in the first week (largely due to some new infrastructure and large usage numbers), it has been resilient to the increased traffic that has been hitting our Dashboard Hub. We now receive over 200,000 hits even on a quiet week with peaks well in excess of that.


Private Pillar 2 testing dashboard for universities

As always public facing data is only part of the story. Following some speedy development, we have deployed a private dashboard to enable universities and the department of education to track trends in positive, negative and void COVID-19 test results of students when they return to campus. This went live in early January for universities in England and we are now rolling out the other home nations.


Dashboard to identify patients suitable for COVID-19 clinical trials

We have worked closely with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to develop a private dashboard to enable researchers to identify patients suitable for COVID-19 clinical trials. This has recently come out of beta and is now live.

This enables researchers to quickly determine how many volunteers meet potential inclusion criteria for their studies by selecting personal attributes (such as age, occupation or ethnicity), health conditions and location.

This is our first dashboard that applies disclosure control “on the fly”, which essentially means small numbers are supressed once users have made their selection.  This enables users to tailor their ask while still protecting confidentiality. 

The complexity of the development was greater than initially anticipated due to the large combinations of variables that researchers use when creating a cohort. However, this has built out our capability and confidence in tackling similar use cases in the future.


Improvements to our existing products

Alongside this there have been countless improvements and tweaks to our existing dashboards. For example our private dashboards for public health has been uplifted to include lateral flow (a.k.a mass testing) data.

Our Shielded Patient List (SPL) dashboard has also evolved and now has an array of new variables to enable users to explore trends and regional differences. This includes tracking additions and deductions to the SPL over time.

Also, it is worth saying there has been real progress behind the scenes in automating the various data pipeline and various assurance activities, in a nutshell this means we can move and assure the data in a more consistent and less manual way and we are aiming to move to a new strategic architecture by March.

As the situation with COVID-19 changes, especially as focus shifts to vaccinations, I fully expect our data products to keep developing. We have a number of prototypes such as a data quality dashboards to support vaccination analysis and dashboards on appointments in primary care in various stages of development that we hope to roll out in the coming weeks and months.


Our team is growing

All this delivery work has been great, owing in part to the development of our Business Intelligence (BI) and Open Data team. We have worked (and still work with) many great consultants and third parties to develop our dashboards.

Since the autumn, I have been lucky enough to recruit the foundations of our permanent BI and Open Data team. It has been fantastic to see new faces at NHS Digital who have all had a real impact in their first few months.


What's next (it's not all COVID-19!)

Another pleasing development is that we are starting to get commissions for non COVID-19 work such as supporting screening and dashboards and analytics for GP surgeries.

We have learnt a lot in this pandemic, whether this is how to spin up highly performant and resilient BI services or the importance of engaging directly with our users.  Above all we recognise the value of moving quicky to satisfy the highest priority need and then working to make that service even better.

Using this learning to build secure private dashboards in various domains of care to put data in the hands of health professionals is a real opportunity that builds on much of the work over the last 10 months.

Once this virus finally abates we have an obligation as public servants to take the learnings and capabilities we have built in response to this crisis to improve health and care in a post pandemic future. In many ways I see the more recent use cases as the first steps on a much longer journey.

 

We have worked closely with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to develop a private dashboard to enable researchers to identify patients suitable for COVID-19 clinical trials. This has recently come out of beta and is now live.

This enables researchers to quickly determine how many volunteers meet potential inclusion criteria for their studies by selecting personal attributes (such as age, occupation or ethnicity), health conditions and location.


Related subjects

Access our dashboards for data on COVID-19, coronavirus in your area, Pathways triages, Shielded Patient List (SPL), vaccine studies volunteers, e-Referrals, hospital activity, maternity services and cervical screening.
Alistair Bullward, Product Owner for Open Data and Data Visualisation, explains how we moved swiftly to provide a robust, mature data service to help with the coronavirus response.

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Last edited: 27 July 2021 8:56 am