Data Analysis To Health Care's Rescue

IT helps health-care group identify best clinical practices

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 21, 2001

2 Min Read

Intermountain Health Care is saving lives, improving patient care, and cutting costs by analyzing the clinical and financial information in its 1.2-terabyte data warehouse. By identifying best clinical practices among its physicians, the IT system is helping to save the lives of as many as 1,200 cardiovascular patients each year.

The Salt Lake City health-care company provides health insurance and medical services to about 500,000 Utah and Idaho residents through its 22 hospitals and 80 outpatient clinics. Its data warehouse, which has been operational for three years, contains 25 years of medical records, including hospital acute-care and outpatient clinic information and financial and claims data detailing the cost of those services.

Like many businesses with data warehouses, the community-owned non-profit health-care provider has been using its data warehouse for several years to help manage costs. Connected to the data warehouse is a materials-management data mart with information about the provider's purchases of medical supplies and other goods. The system helps Intermountain better manage purchasing contracts and obtain volume discounts, says Dale Sanders, enterprise data warehousing director.

The company is using its data warehouse to take customer service to a level most businesses never dream of. The system is used to analyze the specific health-care services, treatments, and medications that are provided to patients to help Intermountain understand which ones are the most effective. The research is carried out by cross-functional teams made up of doctors, nurses, a data-warehouse technician, data analysts, and statisticians. "The big vision is to integrate clinical, claims, and financial data so we can understand clinical outcomes and the cost. That way we can improve the former and reduce the latter," Sanders says.

One two-year study of the company's services provided to diabetics concluded that treatments are more effective when accompanied by frequent cholesterol tests and regular eye exams, Sanders says. Similar studies are ongoing for cancer health-care services and services for mothers and newborns.

How successful has the effort been? Intermountain has used the data warehouse to analyze treatments provided to its cardiovascular patients for five years (including the two years the system was in its prototype stage). That analysis resulted in improvements to follow-up services provided after the patients were discharged from the hospital. A recent mortality study conducted by the company concluded that those and other changes spurred by the data analysis have saved 1,200 lives each year, Sanders says.

Intermountain uses a variety of analytical tools running with the data warehouse, including custom applications and Microsoft Access and Excel. It used Business Objects SA's query and reporting tool for about a year but is switching to reporting software from Crystal Decisions. Business Objects was more expensive, partly because of training costs, Sanders says. The company will save $650,000 a year in development costs with Crystal Decisions, as well as $1.1 million in license, training, and administration costs in the next three years.

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