How hospitals use business intelligence to care for their patients

For John Backhouse, improving how hospitals care for their patients isn’t just a matter of providing better medical care – it’s also about a better use of data.

As the executive director of the Omni program at Information Builders, a New York-based business intelligence company, he has taken the lessons he’s learned from his decade of experience working with the NHS in the U.K., building them into the design of his new healthcare data management system, Omni-Patient. The system took more than two and a half years to build, but it can help hospital administrators with tough decisions.

For example, by triangulating your data across a network of hospitals, you can see where a large number of your diabetes patients are coming from, or if your asthma patients are travelling long distances to reach one specific facility that can treat them, Backhouse said.

“Trends in data have a history that’s very visible,” he said. “How can we ensure patients are better served? … Now we have access to facilities, hospitals, physicians, survivor rates.”

Omni-Patient cleans up data within hospitals’ systems, ensuring the data is high quality and can easily be analyzed. It also integrates all of a hospital’s systems together, putting together as many as 150 systems. For example, it can connect the medical records system with the pharmacy system, and it can also link all of the other systems, creating a central repository where hospital administrators can see all of their data, analyze it, and make decisions about how to run its facility.

There are also options for hospitals to generate reports, which can be related to regulations, operations, and can be built from preconfigured templates based on the countries where hospitals are located. Omni-Patient also provides a search function, allowing a hospital administrator to get a full view of a particular patient in a simplified way that doesn’t require technical skill to understand.

Information Builders finally rolled it out to hospitals about two years ago, with customers in the U.S., as well as the NHS in the U.K., and most recently, Canada. Three weeks ago, Backhouse signed a contract with the Vancouver Health Authority to install Omni-Patient in six hospitals in that network. While the initial setup will probably take about two years, rolling out the full project with all of its programs could take 10 years, Backhouse estimated.

Still, despite the lengthy amount of setup time, that could save hospitals a lot of time in figuring out the best ways to treat patients, he said.

His own experience with the NHS showed him the power of getting more data and being able to make sense of it. Before harnessing their data, healthcare administrators developed ‘pathways,’ or certain routes patients would take through systems – for example, seeing a doctor, then going for a round of tests, and then being treated at a specific clinic.

“We would put 17 patients down a certain pathway, and ask, could we go down a different pathway? … Without of all this information, we never had the ability before to adjust services,” he said.

While Information Builders has only set up Omni-Patient with a few hospitals, it still works with other facilities to help them harness their data to make decisions.

One of its other Canadian customers is Grand River Hospital, a 600-bed facility located in the Waterloo region in Ontario. It signed a contract with Information Builders in 2012, with the company providing it with data warehouse services.

For a hospital of its size, getting Omni-Patient may not have made sense. However, Grand River Hospital still needed to be able to get more visibility across its systems to make decisions about patient care, said Kathleen Lavoie, the hospital’s director of health information management, as well as its chief privacy officer.

“There were a lot of challenges with the data. Each system had its own reporting tools and languages,” she said. “We were able to merge data together to answer questions that we couldn’t have answered before.”

Then Information Builders outfitted Grand River Hospital with a data warehouse, a central repository that stores data from the hospital’s 60 systems. The data warehouse works across systems and languages, meaning hospital employees don’t have to learn new ways of inputting data or trying to analyze it.

While Grand River Hospital was already using business intelligence in the past, it was a team effort, with employees from different departments having to weigh in and take time out of their schedules to work on a report. Now, with a shared repository of data, Grand River Hospital is able to answer a question in a matter of hours, rather than in a few months.

And it’s also helped in more practical ways – Grand River Hospital is now able to estimate how much it costs to treat a patient during their entire stay, based on the amount of resources needed to treat him or her.

That’s allowed Grand River Hospital to create more of a culture driven by data, encouraging lab employees and researchers to take ownership of their data and to look at it to understand how it fits into the hospital as a whole, Lavoie said.

“We’re meeting that need of knowing what’s happening now, or in 15 minutes,” she said. “That’s been really powerful for us.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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