Providing care by numbers

How data can transform our health system

This blog post was authored by Gabe Rijpma, senior director, Health & Social Services, Microsoft Asia

gaberijpmaOn a typical morning, Janice gets into her car at 8am and visits her patients in Christchurch, New Zealand. Janice is an elderly support care worker and spends a great deal of her time in patients’ homes.

Her employer has thousands of people working in similar roles – how can they ensure that Janice and her colleagues are supported? How can they ensure that their team is as efficient as possible? And ultimately, how can they ensure the quality of their care?

The digitization of services holds the answer to these questions. For example, Janice’s route can be optimized to allow her to see an extra patient in her day. And data on the complexity of her cases will allow an employer to accurately judge a suitable workload.

Equally, her employer can have greater control over the quality of its services. Patient satisfaction scores, received in real time, will help an organization maintain its standards and monitor staff performance.

There are thousands of opportunities to use data in the health and social services system, from service providers to policy makers. By using data from across the public sector, social workers are able to predict which children have a greater risk of healthcare problems as a result of their environment. An early intervention can then be made. In fact, the top benefit decision makers in the health and pharma industry see in adopting a data culture is the ability to make real time decisions (82%), according to the Microsoft Asia Data Culture Study 2016 [1].


But these opportunities require organizations to make four key changes, which will unlock the potential of the data they hold. First, they must improve the quality of their data. They can do this by reducing paper from their reporting processes to ensure that information is captured properly.

Good data cleaning processes also ensure data remains current. Telephone numbers and addresses, for example, can easily become outdated. This needs a disciplined process where employees understand the value that data provides to an organization.

Second, agencies must integrate across organizational boundaries. Data must not be held in silos, but should be moved into the cloud and shared more freely within an agency.  The removal of inter-agency barriers can create strong opportunities to improve services. For example, augmenting medical data on a child with truancy records builds a fuller picture of their wellbeing.

Third, agencies must create a data-driven culture. This must start at the very top: executive teams should prioritize using data in their decision-making processes and demonstrate its value to their colleagues. This will naturally ensure that the team follows suit. 82% of healthcare and pharma respondents in our survey feel that the data culture should be driven top down, and there should be a formalized role in the leadership team to drive successful adoption of their data strategy.


Fourth, there needs to be a focus on how to retain privacy without undermining patient care. There is a fine balance here, and agencies should spend time considering how their own policies work for all concerned.

Broadly, data must be shared across internal silos if it can save lives, but agencies should set strong rules to safeguard which employees may view the data – and should also ensure its security by using modern IT systems.

Agencies can set a ‘break glass’ condition that allows them to view confidential material if a set of conditions are met. For example, social services could view a parent’s files if enough conditions were met and this access could protect a child at risk in an abusive family.

Strong approval workflows are vital to ensure good data management. Privacy is a variable, and it must be considered in proportion to the particular circumstances. It must not be used to allow internal silos to hinder service delivery.

The opportunities of data are clear across Asia and beyond. Health and social services providers can better manage their staff, improve their service quality, and deliver a better experience for their patients.

Meanwhile, health and social services systems can build a more holistic view. For example, there is ongoing work to support ‘troubled families’ that face multiple health and welfare challenges across the public sector. Pooling information and working across silos can make a fundamental difference to their lives.

It can also help Janice as she starts on her daily routine. She can provide an even better quality of care, with a stronger understanding of her patients, and better management from her employer.


[1] The Microsoft Asia Data Culture Study 2016 was conducted in March 2016 with 940 business leaders from medium to large companies in 13 markets including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The Study was conducted by independent research consultancy Asia Insight through a series of online and face-to-face interviews.

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