Royal Free Hospital uses SAP BusinessObjects dashboards to fathom data

Brian McKenna

The Royal Free Hospital has implemented SAP’s Business Objects dashboarding technology to enable staff to fathom more efficiently its own workings.

Will Smart, director of information management and technology at the Royal Free Hospital, drew attention to the unusual complexity of the organisation in an interview with Computer Weekly, revealing plans to develop a cadre of power users of the business intelligence dashboards technology.

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Smart is an executive director responsible both for ICT and the organisation’s information function. At next week’s SAP UK and Ireland User Group conference in Manchester, he will describe how the hospital is managing complexity with dashboards, a project that began about 18 months ago.

The Royal Free is an acute teaching hospital, with complex clinical services, delivered to 750,000 patients each year from all over the world, said Smart. It is a founder member of the UCL Partners academic health science system, a collaborative effort between the Royal Free, University College London and three other NHS trusts in London. In 2011/12 it had a turnover of just over £560m, he confirmed.

“There is another dimension of complexity to the hospital’s data, in how the NHS integrates across multiple organisations and how it partners different agencies to determine the most appropriate environment for each patient," said Smart.

“The data captured is complex. There are large volumes of it, but also, to give an example, in an NHS data dictionary a ‘bed’ can be a chair”.

Consistent data for managers and clinicians

The organisation is looking to get consistency in how they answer questions, Smart said, avoiding getting different numbers in response to the same query.

The central data analytics reporting team of 17 is focused on getting information out to operations managers and clinicians.

Before Business Objects, a tool that was licensed under the National Programme for IT in the NHS, managers were getting and producing “handcrafted reports in Excel and Access, a veritable email cottage industry”, said Smart.

"The danger there is you end up with a fruitless loop.”

“And so, we were looking for something that would allow managers to interact more easily with the data, producing tables and graphs that would enable them to begin to see relationships within the data.”

NHS drives efficiencies

Smart confirmed the hospital took soundings from analyst firm Gartner.

“There are two key parts: automation and making routine data easily available. That then frees time to answer more difficult questions”. These include understanding the reasons for patients re-attending soon after discharge.

The SAP dashboarding technology, formerly Xcelsius, has been in use for 6 months. And the hospital has worked with Antivia, an SAP partner. “It is early days”, said Smart.

The dashboarding programme is being developed against the background of the March 2012 Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) NHS efficiency initiative. 

“There is a scheduling issue around treating 750,000 patients a year. Data fundamentally underpins that. You need to understand what you are what doing so you can do it differently," said Smart.

Under the QIPP, the NHS has to reduce costs by £20bn over 5 years.

Cultural change at the NHS

The Health and Social Care Act (2012) is also introducing major changes to the structure and organisation of the NHS, changing the commissioning environment.

“There is also the ‘open government’ agenda. With more and more data published, the need for high quality business intelligence and analytics for NHS organisations has never been greater,” said Smart.

“We have learned that our data is indeed complex and that volumes are a real challenge. We have a deep heritage of analysis. But it still takes time; and more time than one would expect.

“It is also a big cultural change. It means the users going from passive consumption of data to actively co-creating data and knowledge and understanding", he concluded.

 

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