SAS Institute Inc. launched SAS Data Integration for Health Care, a business intelligence system for the Canadian health-care industry based on the SAS Business Analytics Framework.
The data integration and reporting system automates information aggregation and reporting across multiple sources, tracks clinical performance indicators and consolidates data from hospitals, regions and Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).
SAS has something very sustainable and useful here because performance management in the hospital setting has been a very difficult nut to crack, said Pat Finerty, VP of Alliances and Business Development for SAS Canada.
“People know how to calculate return on investment and return on capital, but when you’re calculating mortality ratios and C. difficile infection rates and wait times and case costing, things of that nature, the calculations can sometimes run 10 to 20 pages long,” he said.
Analysts spend less time consolidating data and more time improving outcomes because SAS automates processes, according to Finerty, including 48 clinical indicators used in the Canadian healthcare system.
The centrally-managed system also helps decision support professionals meet regulatory requirements. Every time a ministry changes a requirement, hospitals have to rework all the numbers in every report that this information is used throughout their system, said Finerty.
The ability to change one calculation and have it automatically deployed throughout the system saves hours of work every time those changes occur – and they do regularly occur, he explained.
While hospitals with existing SAS systems are targeted, SAS Data Integration for Health Care is platform-independent and can work with other systems, including those from Cerner Corp.and Medical Information Technology Inc., better-known as Meditech.
Every BI vendor says its product is platform-independent and sometimes this is hard to believe, said Gareth Doherty, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc. But SAS differs from vendors like Oracle Corp., SAP AG and IBM Corp. because of the direction they are coming from, he said.
“They are what some people call pure play…SAS has always been a statistical analysis company, so in that sense, they’ve remained agnostic with respect to the platforms,” said Doherty.
SAS offers the “Cadillac of all BI suites,” according to Doherty, and recently reorganized its position in the market.
“Now they refer to their suite of applications as business analytics, as opposed to what other vendors called business intelligence. That’s a way of trying to distinguish themselves from the competition because their focus has been on the analysis,” he said.
The company strengthened its data integration capabilities by acquiring DataFlux Corp. in 2000, he noted.
SAS is trying to position data integration as the first step in moving towards their business analytics platform, which is exactly the place where organizations need to start first, said Doherty. “If you don’t have good data, you’re not going to get good analysis,” Doherty said.
Data quality is the top challenge organizations face with BI systems, according to a 2008 Info-Tech study on business analytics.
Seventy-seven per cent of organizations found data quality very challenging to maintain, while 75 per cent found the process of changing their operations – recording data, analyzing data and using the data to inform their business operations – very difficult, said Doherty.
Health-care organizations in particular face the same top challenge. According to the study, 85 per cent of health-care organizations found data cleaning and data quality to be a challenging exercise.
Part of the problem is the complexity of health records in the first place, said Doherty, which becomes particularly acute in Canada with multiple health-care providers at regional and provincial levels.
“You have lots of different data sources and some degree, but not complete standardization and when you take all that data and pull it together so you can do some performance management it becomes very difficult to get consistency in all the records,” he said.
A 2007 study by The Commonwealth Fund found only 23 per cent of Canadian physicians using some form of electronic medical health records, Doherty pointed out. At the time, 98 per cent of physicians were using electronic health records in The Netherlands, 92 per cent in New Zealand and 89 per cent in the U.K., he said.
Canada is improving on this front with programs such as Canada Health Infoway, but standardizing electronic health records are just the first step, according to Doherty. The second challenge is getting health-care workers to actually record the information in a consistent and diligent way.
“If you don’t have high-quality records, anything else you’re going to be doing is going to be compromised … If you put garbage data into a BI system, run some analysis, all you’re going to get on the other side is some garbage analysis,” he said.
Niagara Health System was the first healthcare organization in Canada to implement the SAS Data Integration for Health Care system, which also collates Discharge Abstract Database (DAD) and National Ambulatory Care submissions to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
The system provides “timely, detailed, accurate insights into key performance indicators,” said Teresa Struk, director of Finance and Decision Support Services for Niagara Health System, in a statement.