Interview

Data discovery tools open up new vistas for healthcare informatics

The newer generation of BI (business intelligence) tools, often called ‘data discovery’ software, is opening up new vistas in healthcare informatics. That is the view of QlikView enthusiast, Orlando Agrippa, associate director, Business Informatics at Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust.

Colchester is a reference customer for QlikView and has deployed its technology to address information that includes cancer patient wait times, mortality rates and readmissions. It has reduced reporting times from 231 to 54 hours per month, improved performance to reduce mortality rates and made efficiency savings of £46,000.

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Agrippa is one of the earliest users of QlikView in UK healthcare, picking up on it in 2009. More recently, he has assumed a larger proselytising rule for BI software in the NHS in England and Wales and in Scotland.

And he sees a bigger still transformative role for health analytics, with a place for Google Glass and the use of citizens’ self-monitoring with smartphones and other digital devices. Health services the world over confront enormous financial pressures, Agrippa says, and the smarter use of such devices could play a cost-saving role, as well as being health beneficial.

His rock-star hero in health informatics is John Halamka, a US physician-CIO who is, among other things, pioneering the use of Google glasses in A&E diagnosis. Health informatics, in this view, is a constitutive part of patient care, not just a way of reporting it.

“Doctors and nurses contribute directly to patient care and we [as information professionals] have been in the background. It is time now for us to step forward," says Agrippa.

One way to do that, he says, is to provide medical staff with the sort of "just in time and just enough information" given to fighter pilots on their helmet screens. 

“How do we get more visibility into the data, but also use the numbers to make better decisions?” Agrippa says.

He also emphasises the utility of good aesthetics in healthcare BI. Surgeons use good-looking dashboards and disdain ugly pivot tables, in his experience at Colchester. And for us lesser mortals: “even if we can’t afford a Ferrari, we know it is a beautiful car."

He says: “We need to gravitate to our BI applications the way people gravitate towards Google."

Agrippa says he is about to start using a mobile device which monitors his vital signs in real-time and publishes those to the web. He argues that countries in Africa and Asia are especially well placed to benefit from such mobile technology in healthcare, since they can leapfrog the older ICT technologies, and their associated costs, established in the west.

He concludes: “I could work in banking, or other sectors, but this is where we [as analytics professionals] can make the most impact. The NHS is – as an enormous, 65-year-old institution – behind when it comes to the embrace of technological advances, but if we can get them to embrace numbers in the way in which, as private individuals, they embrace Facebook or Twitter, then as patients we will have a different experience."


This was first published in August 2013

 

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