Cancer Care Ontario swaps Excel for SAS

Translating the number of individuals who will be diagnosed with cancer into the proportion that will require chemotherapy and then forecasting where those patients will receive service is one example of how analytics is changing service delivery at Cancer Care Ontario (CCO).

Using a solution from SAS Institute Inc. that allows different data sets and information sources to work together for analysis, CCO can begin planning for capacity at particular sites to improve the level of service required in the future, said Graham Woodward, director of provincial planning at CCO.

“We are trying to better plan for services across the multiple hospitals that provide chemotherapy services in the province,” he said.

The SAS solution, which automates a manual process that CCO previously performed in Microsoft Excel, cuts out “a considerable amount of time and effort” in pulling out data and provides more consistent results, said Woodward.

“We were extracting numbers from a variety of different databases at CCO and then recombining those numbers into an Excel workbook,” he said. “All the data was initially coming out of the cancer stores, so it was difficult to maintain the files in Excel,” he said.

CCO basically re-built the process using SAS, said Woodward. “Every time we want to run a model, instead of pulling the data out and putting it in Excel, it’s actually just connecting with SAS directly to the data stores, pulling out the most recent information, running the model and giving us results,” he said. 

CCO acts as the cancer advisor to the Ontario provincial government and is responsible for improving cancer services across the province. The agency directs and oversees “close to $700 million public health care dollars” to hospitals and cancer care providers, states CCO’s Web site.

Tracking the patient journey as patients move through different settings of care, including visits to specialists and clinics, is challenging because the systems are all silos, said Pat Finerty, vice-president of alliances and business development for SAS Canada.

“There are extensive data management challenges in doing so because these systems all have different identifiers which they use to track the services provided … you need to have extremely powerful data integration and data management tools,” he said.

SAS’s solution helps CCO answer questions like what volume of specific specialized cancer services are going to be required at what part of the province at what time; what is the optimal mix of capacity for the delivery of cancer services in different parts of the province; and what a typical cancer patient experiences as they travel through the health system, said Finerty.

These patient experiences range from how long they are waiting for care to where they have to travel to get care to how many different points of care they have to interact with and how their information is shared between specialists and every other member of the system, he said.

One of the objectives is to “make the system work like a system,” said Finerty. Another goal is to “try and transform the system from one that is reactive to proactive,” he said.

SAS is helping health care providers project forward to forecast what the demand for various care types will be and then optimize the system to deliver that care, he said, as opposed to past emphasis on mobilizing scarce resources to meet increasing capacities at all points of care.

Roughly 90 hospitals in Ontario use SAS, said Finerty. The majority of SAS’s work with health care in Ontario has been with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Ministry of Health Promotion, Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and large specialized agencies like CCO.

Some of the biggest consumers of resources are complex chronic conditions like diabetes, said Finerty. “We think that we have the ability to project those volumes and to help pro-actively plan out how those changes can best be met,” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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