'Industrial strength' data is vital for GP commissioners

Without access to 'industrial-strength' information, clinical commissioning will be a 'hobby for amateurs' that brings limited change, a health policy expert has warned.

Simon Stevens, a former adviser to Tony Blair and now president of global health at healthcare firm UnitedHealth, made the comments at a National Association of Primary Care commissioning conference in London last week.

He told the conference that the NHS could learn from other health systems globally.

International experience shows access to transparent data is key to strong clinical commissioning, he said.

One of the first challenges on the commissioning agenda was the need for much greater transparency about clinical variations, he said.

'GPs must have access to information about providers' performance as well as about the population they manage,' Mr Stevens said. 'One of the first challenges is how to synthesise information in a way that will be usable by clinicians.

'Without getting much more serious about industrial-strength information, commissioning will be a hobby for amateurs, fiddling at the margin and about achieving limited change.'

Mr Stevens said GP commissioners needed to make the most of technological breakthroughs, including greater use of remote technologies. 'I believe that unless we unleash more innovation in clinical delivery models, we don't stand a hope of delivering against the funding constraints that the service will face over the next four years.

'One of the challenges that commissioning will have is how to adopt innovation using new technology,' he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Stevens said one of the 'complex tasks' for commissioners was how to stimulate and support patient self-care. He said commissioners needed to 'get serious' about this as well as the 'experimental agenda', such as financial incentives for smoking cessation and 'QOF for patients'.

'We have to make greater efforts on the primary prevention front,' he said.

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