The gap between what the NHS costs and what we actually give it is currently at a level of about thirty to forty billion pounds. To address the shortfall, most commentators talk about reducing spending by 30% – or even more.

This is sobering stuff. And clearly, this scale of economy cannot be achieved by making a tweak here or there, by cutting down on routine operations, patching a process or two. No, anyone involved in the NHS knows the needed savings can only come from truly dramatic steps.

What kind? Many people are starting to identify preventative healthcare as the most promising innovation. The idea is to capture and use patient data and then come up with flexible, customised response to head off as many issues as we can, before they become critical.

It’s a great idea but the NHS, subject to endless tinkering as it has been by various governments, may not be in the best shape to head down this round. It’s just not ‘joined up’ enough, acting in siloes that hamper Trusts and Commissioning Groups from moving to gain the holistic vision they’d need of their patients if we’re serious about putting in place structures to help anticipate patient problems before they show up at the GP surgery or in A&E.

What’s a bit frustrating is that the technology to do this – to create rich datasets to enable preventative healthcare – is actually available. It’s even possible to extract and combine data from multiple different sources, from demographic data to all sorts of historic patient data, to help clinicians start deriving useful conclusions about conditions that are likely to be present in certain patient groups.

In fact, early trials of the kind of technology are already underway at some pioneering UK Trusts; a set of highly promising projects are looking to introduce indexing and searching capabilities to disparate and unstructured patient information and offer manipulation tools beyond the scope of conventional electronic search facilities.

That means decision makers will be able to drill deeper into data than they’ve been able to before so as to start identifying trends, anticipate medical conditions before symptoms have emerged and really start using data for patient benefit. The goal is more patients being treated in the community or at home, before their conditions worsen – which is what the patient wants, as much as the taxpayer.

The technology in question comes in the shape of the latest version of our Electronic Medical Record (EMR) solution, Evolve. One of the Trusts working with Evolve this way is exploring the idea of ‘Smart Indexing’. In practical terms, Smart Indexing will bring historical patient case notes to life, as it will combine them with other structured and unstructured data, such as GP correspondence or lab results, so that clinicians and healthcare analysts can build up a 360 degree, richly-detailed picture of a patient’s medical background.

Smart Indexing is just the start. Over the next 18 to 24 months, we have firm plans in place to add ever richer analytics capabilities to Evolve. Advanced ‘medical context’-aware search capabilities are next in line, allowing clinicians to automatically identify correlations between key terms and conditions, based on deep analysis of historical patient data conjoined with an individual’s case history. Your doctor will be able to pick out patterns in data about an individual or a group of patients – e.g. recognising the link between Endocrinology results and potential diabetes, for example. Beyond that, Big Data will start to finally come into medicine, taking healthcare decisions to a new level, removing the element of guesswork and gut feel to support operational actions.

And not just in the hospital of course. The ability to join up and combine diverse information from across the community is going to be vital in order to create the full picture.

The bottom line: finally, healthcare can follow the lead of retail and ecommerce and exploit the potential of data to improve patient care and outcomes – and deliver us ways to stop that £40bn issue killing off the National Health Service.

World-class technology integration specialist Kainos has developed new healthcare analytics capabilities in the next generation of its flagship Electronic Medical Record (EMR) solution, Evolve – now used in more than 48 hospitals in the UK