Real-time hospital admissions data system to support future response to public health emergencies

Staff using computer

Clinicians and researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) are working with colleagues from across north west London to produce a real-time data feed that will analyse hospital admissions and provide vital information about local, and eventually national, public health issues.

The team behind the iCARE database, a project led and funded by the NIHR Imperial BRC and based at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, have been working with partners in north west London since December 2021 via the Health Data Research Alliance. The partners are working to co-ordinate routinely collected data from hospitals, GP surgeries and community healthcare to create a system that provides immediate insights and information, vital for a quick response to public health issues.

It is hoped that the system could be relied on in the future, using data about hospital admissions and symptoms in members of the community to identify early signs of disease outbreaks or community-based health issues. This could include infectious diseases such as Covid-19 and influenza or even environmental issues such as legionella.

The iCARE team are experienced in developing digital interventions and they bring together a wide range of expertise, including clinicians, data scientists and engineers, researchers, statisticians and lay partners. The team investigates how clinical data collected as part of usual care can be analysed and optimised to provide information that can benefit patients and help generate new and useful insights to inform decisions and research.

This new system will use data from the existing iCARE database and link in with partners across the integrated care system (ICS) and the rest of London, as well as partners across the country in Birmingham, the Midlands, Cheshire, Mersey and Scotland, who all also have similar data systems in place that can be utilised and linked together for national benefit to patients.

iCARE is one of a few Trusted Data Environments in the country already linking routinely collected primary and secondary care data, making it a key starting point for a real-time system in the capital. Working in close partnership with the WSIC system, which is the north west London population health data platform, the researchers are helping to support a proposed national system across a number of ICSs. The team have already tested the ability of the system to identify public health issues in real-time by using data from admissions to identify trends related to rare vaccine-related adverse events such as cases of blood clots and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). This proved that the system could be effective even in situations where prevalence of a disease is low.

Mr Erik Mayer, Transformation chief clinical information officer at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and researcher at the NIHR Imperial BRC said: “We already collect a wealth of data from our patients so that we can care for them effectively and this data has been shown by the work of iCARE to be incredibly impactful when analysed as a large data set as it can give us unique insights in to the health of our communities. We simply would not be able to have this information without complex algorithms and data analysis processes.

“We hope that by utilising our existing iCARE system and providing it with strong links to other systems across the country and within our ICS, we can provide a safe, secure system through which to analyse large amounts of health data and provide real-time insights that could improve and speed up our response to public health issues, ultimately improving outcomes for patients.”

  • Erik Mayer
    Erik Mayer
    Director iCARE & Clinical Reader, Department of Surgery & Cancer