Prescription For Critical Processes

Automated systems for hospital and patient records let health organizations cut costs
Every night at Mount Sinai NYU Health, which operates 17 hospitals, a host of information is copied from a massive Oracle-based clinical operations database to a clinical data warehouse. There, the data--which includes information critical to the hospital's operation, such as billing records, and crucial to patients' health, such as tests that have been ordered and lab results--can safely be poked at, prodded, and changed without harming the original. Should a doctor want to look at a particular practice, such as orders placed by doctors in the intensive-care department, business-intelligence software from companies like SAS Institute Inc. and Brio Software Inc. can retrieve those records and make them available for analysis.

Having an automated system pull records and put them into a useable format for doctors goes a long way toward helping the company optimize its processes, says Nader Mherabi, IT director at Mount Sinai NYU Health. The health-services organization no longer has to have clerical staff compile the data for doctors. "Now we can do it a lot cheaper and more effectively," Mherabi says. "We've improved our turnaround time and the quality of the data."

Putting in place data-management software to automatically move information to the data warehouse also will help the hospital comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements to protect patient privacy. Since data migration is all automated, there's no risk of breaching patient confidentiality--the software knows which fields it's allowed to put into the warehouse.

TECH TO-DO LISTNot only is much of the information that gets translated to the clinical-data warehouse confidential, but all of it is mission critical. Should just one line get modified, it could have disastrous repercussions, critically wounding not only a patient's health but the health system's ability to do business. It's a thorny data-management issue for Mherabi, who's using Ascential Software Corp.'s DataStage XE enterprise data-integration tools to automatically process and integrate data from the operations database to the data warehouse.

The software can take multiple sources of data--mainframe data written in Cobol, Oracle databases, or a host of other types--and transform it into formats that can be understood by products such as SAS's business-intelligence software.

Since doctors and administrators now have quick and easy access to clinical data, they can do a more effective job managing other business processes, Mherabi says. For instance, a doctor who analyzes practices in the intensive-care unit may be able to spot trends and mistakes, leaving him or her better equipped to simplify operations. "A medical director can now analyze processes on his end," Mherabi says. "It helps improve quality of care."

Other health-care organizations use the DataStage software to automate processes associated with managing financial information. At Penn State University's Hershey Medical Center, the IT department uses the software to aggregate data from a handful of internal systems and format reports that it sends to external organizations, such as sending payroll information to the bank each week or informing health-insurance companies of charges and changes.

"If we didn't have a tool like this, we would probably have to write code to do these things," says John Walker, a programmer in the hospital's IT department. "This gives us the ability to support these applications with five people, as opposed to 15 or 20."

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