As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians, policy advisors and economists are all asking the same question; how do we build back better?

At ABPI Scotland we are having the same conversation and believe that the improved use of data and digital solutions must be our biggest learning from the pandemic. At its heart, the ability to turn data into information, and information into insight will improve care for patients.

Already during this crisis, we have seen the NHS adapt, innovate and bring services closer to patients with unprecedented speed.

Whilst most of us spent the early part of the pandemic grappling with Zoom and encouraging colleagues to “unmute themselves”, the NHS ramped up and rolled out NHS “Near Me”. In beaming consultations into patients’ living rooms, NHS Scotland gave a peak at the type of technical innovation that should underpin healthcare for the next generation.

For industry, generating insights from large data sets has the power to not just transform the way we research new medicines and vaccines, but also how we deliver them to patients.

The speed at which new vaccines and therapeutics have been developed has in part been thanks to how we collaborate and use data for the greater good. Being able to analyse large data sets, quickly attract large numbers of patients to clinical trials and understand outcomes have all helped assist the response to COVID-19.

For patients, the improved use of data can help refine pathways and match them to more effective treatments. It can also provide opportunities to take part in cutting edge research whilst enabling faster access to the latest treatments through flexible commercial arrangements.

The opportunity is clear but there are hurdles to clear for this to be a reality. As a result, ABPI Scotland is calling for a collaborative approach which ensures the ambitions described in various digital strategies are connected with the on-the-ground reality in the NHS.

In short, this means prioritising the collection of data and patient outcomes as a public health priority equal to that of waiting times and other issues. It means investing in infrastructure to standardise data collection. And it means working together at all steps in the journey to ensure patients have full trust and confidence.

Whilst the opportunities generated from the better collection of data are significant, they won’t be around forever.

When Scotland rolled out the community healthcare index number, we were the envy of healthcare systems around the world. In recent years that advantage has slipped away, and we are in danger of falling behind other countries who are moving quickly to make healthcare data available. As a result, ABPI Scotland would encourage the Scottish Government and NHS to work fast and make the improved use of patient data a cornerstone of their next digital healthcare strategy. COVID-19 has already forced so much change, but its biggest legacy might be the changes that are yet to come, and we hope this includes a data driven NHS that delivers for patients, clinicians and industry.