Data The Magnifying Glass that Shows Us Where to Focus Quality Improvement

Data: The Magnifying Glass that Shows Us Where to Focus Quality Improvement

Why It Matters

“Data will never tell you the solution, but it will tell you where you need to focus your attention.” 


It is not every day that a health care improver can use their skills, knowledge, and experience to help the community where they grew up. This is the case for Forid Alom. The East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) data analyst grew up in Tower Hamlets, a borough of London served by his organization.

Alom could have worked in any number of settings, but using his passion for numbers and technology to support the health of a population near and dear to his heart has given his quality improvement (QI) journey a deeply personal dimension. “I know it may sound cheesy,” he said during an interview with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), “but I feel good about giving back to the community where I was born and bred.”

Alom’s data analytics team plays a vital role in supporting ELFT’s commitment to creating an improvement-focused, data-driven culture. In recent years, the IHI Health Improvement Alliance Europe member has gotten results while using quality improvement methods to implement the Triple Aimaddress racism, and improve joy at work and staff well-being. Embracing the use of data for improvement is “encouraged at all levels of the organization,” Alom explained. This has meant, instead of fearing data, “staff actually demand data,” he said.

More Than Crunching Numbers

Alom was first introduced to statistical process control (SPC) and the power of data for improvement when he joined ELFT as a data analyst nine years ago. “I’ve always had a love for data,” Alom explained. “I’ve always loved taking meaningful stories from the data.” However, it was working at ELFT that helped him understand the significance of SPC and the importance of shifting from merely reacting to data peaks and troughs to more deeply understanding variation in a system.

Alom does more than crunch numbers. Like a language interpreter, he helps to glean meaning from the data. “Data can sometimes be daunting,” he noted. “I enjoy trying to translate to a non-technical audience and making [data] accessible for staff.”

Making data easier to use for improvement is crucial. While data can be powerful, its potential remains untapped if we trap it behind technical barriers. Alom also described how institutions often use data as a tool for judgment or blame or to impose productivity measures on staff. ELFT’s approach, however, is changing this narrative.

“I always say data for improvement and statistical process control charts are essentially like magnifying glasses,” Alom explained. “Data will never tell you the solution, but it will tell you where you need to focus your attention.” The real story and expertise, Alom noted, comes from the improvement teams who bring their perspectives, have conversations about the meaning of the data, and drive change based on their insights. By working collaboratively with care providers to understand what matters most to them and service users, the data analysis team support data-informed decision-making and prioritizing internal improvement objectives over external regulatory requirements.

ELFT’s commitment to making data a driving force behind improvement has resulted in innovation that is continuously evolving. For example, Alom’s team has created a “one-stop shop” to allow staff access to data whenever they need it. Their “self-service analytics” report condenses complex data into a simple table that provide teams with a quick snapshot of what requires their attention. As Alom sees it, this not only helps ensure important insights do not get lost in a potentially overwhelming deluge of information; it also gives precious time back to staff.

There is little doubt that Forid Alom would have put his understanding of the human impact of data to effective use in any organization. However, he credited what he learned at ELFT with not only providing the opportunity to benefit his community but also to approach his work differently. “The great thing about improvement is you share what worked but also what hasn’t worked well,” he explained. “Failures are not failures. They’re opportunities for learning to do things better.”

Photo by Philip Chapman-Bell | flickr | This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

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