McMaster University taps app to improve accuracy

A couple of Hamilton’s public institutions have taken it upon themselves to make sure that their address records are as clean as possible going forward with everything from a Web tool for alumni to a way to audit address accuracy.

Both McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare have been using the U.K.-based Experian QAS address accuracy software program to ensure that their records’ addresses are up to par, and not compromising any privacy laws or client relations.

The program’s spreading through Canada’s hospitals first and foremost is no coincidence: Experian QAS head honchos have seen the similarities between the medical systems in the United Kingdom and Canada. Over the pond, the program has near complete implementation in the kingdom’s healthcare facilities, according to chief operating officer Joel Curry. The front-end address validation software has been around in Canada for about five years, where it has enjoyed decent growth due to the aforementioned similarities…and the problems that have plagued hospital recordkeepers. “If someone’s sick, there’s going to be a raft of errors,” said Curry. “So we need to provide a filter that will match it back to and suggest the correct addresses.”

Here in Canada, St. Joseph’s had a slate of its own responsibilities when it came to getting the right address from its patients: to its insurance and invoice processors, to the foundation in charge of soliciting donations, to the Ministry of Health’s mandatory reporting standards, and family care providers. Having accurate addresses was also key in determining where patients come from, which plays into funding and other regulatory issues, according to Marnie Fletcher, director of health information services and chief privacy officer.

A significant amount of returned mail was resulting in collector agencies having to be called in and a lack of follow-up. Also looming over everything was the strict data protection laws around health communications, said Fletcher, making it extra-important to improve the accuracy of the organization’s address records.

Curry foresees the company’s saturation as growing much more in the next five years, when, he foresees, “the number of data standards and rules could accelerate.” (So far, the company also counts companies like Bell Canada, the Shopping Channel, and Holt Renfrew among its clients.) St. Joseph’s actual implementation got underway several months ago, and required three days of Experian QAS-administered training to get the 80 stations throughout three facilities up and running. The program runs on top of the admitting software; when the person inputting the data gets to the postal code area, it pops into the Experian QAS system, allowing users to type in postal codes and then get a range of street names and numbers to choose from. Or, for people who have forgotten their postal code, submitting their street name will pop up some possibilities for the person inputting the data.

“The actual ease of use on the software was good,” said Linda Furlong, manager for ER registration, who was part of the initial beta of the software in the emergency and diagnostic imaging departments. Setting up an internal server for the software only took two weeks. And, on the user side, feedback was good, due to an integrated look-and-feel that wasn’t too intimidating for the busy healthcare staff. Furlong said that the reduction of questions the registrars have to ask has improved customer service and saves time.

Fletcher said that no concrete research has been done on the results yet, but they are calling on Experian QAS for an auditing tool in the future to track improvements in address accuracy.

McMaster University has future plans, too, according to John McKay, director of advancement services. The university successfully implemented the solution several years ago to tidy up its own 190,000-plus addresses, and saw an improvement of several percentage points in the accuracy of its database’s address records.

This fall will see the university implementing a Web-based tool that would allow alumni inputting their own addresses online to benefit from the Experian QAS prompts around address accuracy. They’re also fishing around for a solution that would allow them to improve e-mail validation as well. “We want to make it as easy as possible,” he said. “It’s in our own self-interest—if the alumni are donating, we want to get them those tax receipts!”