Healthy dose of analytics improves patient care at Toronto hospital

Use of business intelligence (BI) and performance management tools has enabled one of Canada’s largest community hospitals to boost productivity and enhance the quality and speed of patient care.

Some years ago, Trillium Health Centre – which serves residents in the Toronto and Mississauga areas – rolled out a business intelligence cum performance management system from Cognos Software (now part of IBM).

Hospital sources say the impact has been dramatic – boosting productivity by 20 per cent, improving patient services, reducing wait times, and optimizing use of hospital facilities.

Trillium has already experienced a 46 per cent return on investment, according to a report by Nucleus Research, a Boston-based IT consulting firm.

As in any sprawling healthcare facility, services at Trillium rely heavily on timely access to accurate information by a broad range of healthcare workers.

But providing such access to everyone who needed it was a challenge prior to the Cognos system rollout. At the time, Trillium’s dashboard could be accessed by only around 100 persons.

That’s a far cry from today, when the Cognos system reaches everyone in the organization, noted May Chang, vice-president of decision and support and chief financial officer at Trillium.

Such comprehensive access allows issues to be identified and resolved faster, she said. “As more people are aware of problem areas, there’s greater [motivation] to make changes.”

Broader and quicker access to the system means procedures can be reviewed from different angles. “Staff members can talk about findings, and can even have an interactive conference using the tool.”

The current dashboard, Chang said, links disparate types of data, enabling a more thorough analysis of programs.

All this has helped improve the quality and speed of many hospital services.

For instance, Chang said, Trillium has been able to set up a performance reporting page to assess wait times for hip and knee MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) procedures.

Smarter monitoring has also helped the hospital streamline internal procedures, eliminating duplicate services and making key adjustments to daily operations.

One tangible benefit from all this is a significant reduction in the time it takes for a patient to see a physician. Replacement surgery wait times have also been slashed.  

Insight into trends and patterns enabled by the BI system is also improving use of hospital facilities. For instance, analysis of average bed stays allows staff to anticipate demand and ensure back-up beds are ready when needed.

But the benefits of analytics extend beyond improved healthcare services, Chang said.

She said the system enables resources and budgets to be scrutinized, and purchasing decisions and patterns to be reviewed over time.

Insights gleaned from such analytics are used to improve financial strategies and practices.

Use of BI and performance management technologies to improve patient care in Canada has become crucial, industry insiders say.

It’s estimated that medical errors – from faulty or inaccurate data – kill 24,000 Canadians each year and cost tax payers billions of dollars.

Awareness of the role of IT – specifically electronic health records – in preventing such errors and improving healthcare is growing across Canadian jurisdictions.

The recent federal budget allocated $500 million to Canada Health Infoway, a non-proft group that works with the provinces and territories to accelerate adoption of electronic health records.

The company aims to make 50 per cent of Canadian healthcare records digital by 2010. This will help clinicians devote more time to patients, improve patient safety and deliver more cost-effective services.

A report released by Canada Health Infoway in December said investments in digital diagnostic imaging technology alone, will generate between $850 million and $1 billion in cost-savings.

Electronic records without doubt improve patient care, and that’s the main reason hospitals are clamouring for them, according to Barry Burk, vice-president, healthcare, industry, IBM Canada.

He said better care, in turn, means a healthier population and lower public health costs.

Big Blue’s focus, he said, is to create a smarter healthcare system – and better connectivity and communications are key pre-requisites for this.

Connectivity includes strengthening links between healthcare institutions and their access to internal and external resources.

Electronic health records are a vital piece of the puzzle, he said. Besides putting patient information online, they also improve analytics, allowing management to make better program decisions.

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