Data champions needed in OT
No more “Data? Doh!” moments, OTs! Be champions in the war against outdated occupational therapy services.
The best way to describe the state of data in the AHP world is that we have this deep, dark, murky, unclean lake of information - with pockets of excellence - that we really need to start to clean…
Suzy England, RCOT Professional Adviser
Evidence-based practice ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ (to cite the Ronseal advertising slogan). It is a practice, such as occupational therapy, based on evidence. And in modern times, a wealth of evidence can be found in data banks. The best data banks are refreshed regularly to keep pace with change. While the best practitioners do the same. But, in reality, how close are occupational therapists to using data intelligently?
Exactly the question asked by Suzy England, Professional Adviser in Health Informatics for the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), at its recent annual conference. 
Occupational therapists (OTs), she said, need regular, up-to-date information relating to their practice from a variety of banks, including:
- Clinical data.
- Workforce data.
- Population health data.
And they need to know what to do with the data to ensure their services meet the needs of their user groups. “How confident and skilled are occupational therapists to be able to use this knowledge?” Sally asked.
Measures are needed to support OTs in ensuring their services are evidence-based – clinically and financially. To do that, Sally urged, data champions are needed “at every level” to understand and lead. This may mean facing challenges such as:
- Multiple stakeholders.
- Multiple systems.
- Ongoing global changes.
But Sally pointed to the rapid switch to remote occupational therapy provision during the covid pandemic to prove the profession’s ability for rapid transformation.  She said: “It’s fair to say that the pandemic has brought us on in leaps and bounds in terms of the digital tools available.” But she warned OTs were “lagging behind” when it came to data use.
“The best way to describe the state of data in the AHP [Allied Health Professions] world is that we have this deep, dark, murky, unclean lake of information – with pockets of excellence – that we really need to start to clean if we are going to be able to gain meaningful insights from it,” she said.
So, what would a data ‘clean’ mean? Sally suggested a six-point plan:
- Data date: Set aside time to prioritise data.
- User views: find out stakeholders’ information needs.
- End start: identify what you want to know about your service and work backwards.
- Sharing is caring: record data in ways it can be shared.
- Outside help: find out if other sectors can help.
All OTs, Sally concluded, need to be part of the profession’s greater data agenda. And every organisation should appoint an allied health professional or OT specialist to drive innovation forward.