Building the NHS Data Standards Directory

NHS England and Improvement

A new directory of data standards is helping care settings standardise and share data for faster, safer care.

The challenge

In 2021 we completed a discovery for a new service that could support interoperability, where information flows seamlessly across health IT systems.

The service would help solve 2 key problems for users: the data standards needed for interoperability are published by multiple organisations making them hard to find; and it can be hard to find important details about those standards in sometimes lengthy documents.

The service would link users to different data standards in use across the health sector from technical specifications to data dictionaries.

At the end of our alpha we had an initial design. Now we needed to refine the service further and start building it with real data.

What we did

First we needed to validate how the directory could be kept up to date which is essential to maintaining users’ trust in the service.

We carried out research with similar services to understand how they had solved this problem. We then put together a strategy detailing how the service could be kept up to date using automated tools, manual checks and user feedback.

This image shows a line diagram laying out how the directory could be managed, from the point at which it is identified that something in the directory needs updating to the point the update goes live.
Methods and processes for keeping the directory up to date

We also advised on governance for the service, including specifying the roles needed to run it and helping set up a group of data experts to oversee the service.

Finally we started building the live service whilst continuing to make design improvements. This included:

  • carrying out over 50 research sessions with users including prototype and live build testing
  • working with the Data Alliance Partnership Board to add a new feature - the ability to see new standards in development
  • continuing to simplify the language to increase understanding of this complex area

Going live

The image shows a page from the data standards directory called roadmap of future requirements in England. The page contains a table of standards that are currently being assessed with a view to mandatory implementation in England.
New page showing standards currently in development

In August 2022 the service went live following a successful NHS service assessment and just one year after completing the discovery. This met the government’s deadline as committed to in Data Saves Lives: reshaping health and social care with data.

Stakeholders have been delighted, both by the quality of the work but also what we’ve been able to achieve in such a short time.

“This [service] is the fruition of a huge amount of work…and I just wanted to say congratulations and well done, it’s really an incredible feat.” Irina Bolychevsky, Director of Standards and Interoperability, NHS

We’ve also had positive feedback from users:

'“This kind of thing is golden…People should be shouting about this!” Business Analyst, NHS supplier

“It’s really useful to see this. I would find it a valuable resource.” Technical Product Owner, major NHS supplier

“For people like me, clinicians who come into digital and are supporting the digital development and innovation, this is really useful. It gives so much more information than [is available currently].” Business Analyst, NHS supplier

The renewed focus on the area of data standards has prompted activity in other areas and our findings have supported teams working to improve standards development and those working on policy.

We’re continuing to make improvements to the service based on live feedback. You can view the live service and give feedback.

More on this project

Researching barriers to interoperability in health

Designing solutions to join up health tech

Talk to us

Whether you’re ready to start your project now or you just want to talk things through, we’d love to hear from you.

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