…some of us wear regular clothes and use R and SQL to analyse data.

I joined DataLoch in January 2021 as a Data Analyst. I work with researchers to identify useful data, and then link and deliver it for their projects. I also act as the team expert for laboratory data, advising on data-quality issues, understanding individual laboratory tests, and investigating relevant data sources.

Becoming a Biomedical Scientist

However, I have not always worked in data. I started as a trainee Biomedical Scientist, learning about blood grouping, virology screening (checking for viruses), and lots of other things!

After two years of working and studying, I gained my state registration with HCPC (HealthCare Professions Council) as a Specialist Biomedical Scientist in Transfusion Science. I have since cross-matched blood for patients, prepared tissue samples, and been responsible for processing patient stem cells for those undergoing chemotherapy.

Never losing sight of patients

To me, being a Biomedical Scientist is much more than using a multi-channelled automatic pipette. At the heart of everything a Biomedical Scientist does are patients. They are our absolute priority. We all work knowing that behind every sample we process is a patient depending on us.

I will always remember the young woman needing many, many units of O Negative blood following a car crash, the young girl with a complex mix of antibodies who was transfusion dependent and needed blood matched for her every month, and the person whose leukaemia was identified from a routine test when they donated blood.

Moving away from the lab

In 2017, I hung up my lab coat and became an Information Analyst for NHS Lothian. A key task was looking to improve patient pathways: I analysed data to identify how patients could be treated more appropriately and more quickly.

I found that although a lot of laboratory data was collected for a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, there was a real opportunity to use this data for wider service management as well. One example was the introduction of video dietary advice for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, with patients treated appropriately in line with their laboratory test results.

And then COVID hit

Practically overnight, understanding the value of laboratory data was vital in my NHS analyst team. I had a key role in helping colleagues understand COVID test data: What did the data codes mean? Which data source was best? Where were patients being tested?

With outpatient activity suspended, my work changed focus. I supported the DataLoch team in establishing the COVID database; helped laboratories to understand the number of laboratory COVID tests to ensure enough chemicals were ordered; and identified blood samples taken from COVID positive patients.

As the first lockdown eased and outpatient services re-opened, I was able to use my understanding of laboratory procedures to inform a new ‘Blood Monitoring’ Service: localised clinics away from hospitals, offering blood-drawing and other services for outpatients through video consultations. A welcome side effect of this initiative was that patients had to travel much shorter distances.

Benefits for patient care

Now part of the DataLoch team, I continue to share my Biomedical Scientist knowledge.

When I see a CHI (patient) number, I don’t just see a 10-digit number with a tricky leading zero that Excel struggles with: I see a patient. That patient has data which is precious and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Furthermore, this precious data can be used to answer research questions and develop new innovations in medicine and health care, which ultimately improves patient pathways in the NHS.