Follow the data in maternity care

By Hermione Jackson, Digital Midwife Project Advisor on 05 May 2021 IDM - International Day of the Midwife Global midwifery NHS Digital Digital Maturity

Data is defined as 'information, especially facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered and used to help decision-making'.

Today marks International Day of the Midwife and this year’s theme is Follow the data: invest in midwives. We know maternity data is imperative to the care we provide. Not only is it important to call for more investment from the Government to provide us with the right equipment to capture data, it is also important to reflect on how we ourselves record that data.

To gain a better understanding we need to don the ruby slippers and follow the path of data in maternity care – find out what happens to the information we capture and what impact is has. At the start of every pregnancy is the all-important booking appointment. Here we capture the extremely comprehensive and detailed history of the woman’s health, including her physical health but also her mental health and social circumstances, flagging anything that could affect her. This lays the foundation for the relationship with the woman and the care we collectively provide.

Throughout pregnancy and birth, midwives translate a woman’s experience into documentation, or data, to ensure that her experience is visible in wider data sets. This can be used between colleagues and locally to evaluate, benchmark and audit care. The same piece of data might then be used nationally and contribute to national data sets, national statistics and dashboards. These statistics and dashboards are then used to determine policies and funding decisions made by Government and national bodies like NHS England or commissioning groups who decide what services to run in a particular area. 

Each piece of data is not used in isolation so when you document a woman’s mode of birth you also document whether she was a smoker or whether the baby was cephalic or whether she took a certain medication during her pregnancy, the combination of all of these little pieces of information, which don't always seem completely relevant to the immediate clinical care, are combined to create the richest most powerful data we can use. See my other blogs on importance for capturing data when recording ethnicity and documenting domestic abuse.

Maternity data also has the power to influence at an international level. Every time we record each seemingly small aspect of woman's experience, we create a ripple effect that results in life changing care for the woman, but also for all future women giving birth in the UK and around the world. The information we capture is also included in major influential reports, for example the 2021 State of World’s Midwifery report, launched today by the International Confederation of Midwives and the World Health Organization.   

In the busy day to day, we can get lost in the little things and forget the bigger picture. Without midwives we would not have the depth and breadth of data that we have. At the heart of this data at the heart of this research and learning is a midwife completing accurate documentation that forms the rich and powerful data to change the lives of women giving birth across the world. Each thread of information, however small, is woven into the greater tapestry of maternity care.      

From data used in referrals to research, MW audit, ONS Statistics and ultimate improved maternity care, our downloadable flowchart shows the extensive journey of maternity data.