Kevin Hellon -

Specsavers clinicians used company data to spot Covid referral collapse

At Big Data London, Specsavers’ global data officer related how clinicians used company data to spot Covid referral collapse

Clinicians at branches of Specsavers used data on clinical outcomes to identify a 66% fall in referrals to hospital ophthalmologists during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, the company’s global data officer has said.

“That wasn’t picked up by us as a team, it was picked up by the clinicians,” Helen Mannion told a keynote session at the Big Data LDN (London) conference on 22 September.

The data was shared with charity Glaucoma UK and NHS organisations, contributing to moves to allow routine eye appointments to continue during lockdowns. “Effectively, that saved thousands of people’s sight from preventable sight loss,” said Mannion.

According to Mannion, this shows the value of putting data in the hands of subject specialists. The data was provided to let them monitor their referrals, but the company’s clinicians used it to help tackle a separate, unexpected issue. “They can deliver something you never thought they would,” she said.

Specsavers uses an app to provide store-based staff with data, which Mannion said had been designed based on the customer journey after user experience testing. She said the service includes links to advice on what to do if a measure falls below a certain level on the company’s Sharepoint system.

Adding that at present there may be too much data passed to stores, Mannion said she wants to use machine learning to embed relevant information in the tools staff use every day. “For individuals using those, it should be almost completely invisible that they are using data,” she told the session. “What they care about is delivering their outcomes.”

Mannion said that when she joined Specsavers three-and-a-half years ago, it was “a very immature data organisation”. Asked by the board earlier this year to score the company’s data maturity out of 10, “we put ourselves at two, which after three-and-a-half years I think is still very low on the scale”.  

Mannion is proud of the progress her team has made so far, but it is a long-term project. “We still have a relatively fragmented organisation with a huge amount of manual processes,” she said. “It is not an optimised environment and there are tons and tons more opportunities that we can get from utilising data more effectively.”

This includes completing the development of a single view of customers, with the aim of increasing the maturity score to five out of 10 in the next three years.

Early in her time at the company, some colleagues said they did not believe it would be possible to develop a culture of data analytics, but now more than 150 people use the analytics platform. Mannion said a strategy of persuasion, along with training courses and “lunch and learn” sessions, had helped convince colleagues of the value of data. Some have become advocates who help persuade others.

When departments or individuals are reluctant to use the company’s common data lake, she said it can make sense to compromise on methods and focus on outcomes, but added that some change their minds over time. “We’ve had people who don’t want us to add their data to the lake, [saying] ‘it’s my data’, then a year later call me up and say, ‘why is my data not in the lake?’.”

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