Sunday 3 November 2013

Saving Lives: Business Intelligence for Healthcare

The NHS needs to save lives and save money by innovating with business intelligence.

In the summer of 2012, Orlando Agrippa was recognised by TechWeekEurope for implementing a public sector business intelligence project at the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (CHUFT). Acting as the social director of Business Informatics, Agrippa, rebuilt ageing IT infrastructure and introduced analytics into the Trust’s everyday operations by introducing business intelligence solutions.

The project at CHUFT has saved the hospital over £30,000 in reporting costs, as well as contributed to the reduction of mortality rates. Reporting that used to take over 200 hours has been reduced by 70 per cent. He has seen the benefits of the platform's ‘associated model’, which allows users to "link data in a natural, logical way [so that if] you wanted to know what the length of stay within the organisation was, you can do that in 3-4 clicks.”

The success at CHUFT has taught him that business intelligence could one day be deployed at other NHS hospitals. He also notes that the speed of implementing the service contributed to his decision: “We could not wait 18 months for a massive infrastructure change. We needed it done really quickly.”

Meanwhile, the sector regulator for health services in England known as Monitor has recommended the NHS borrow fresh ideas from countries such as India and Mexico that save money. "Monitor said the NHS was only likely to reach two-thirds of its £30bn saving target by 2021 if it kept on as it was." (

The cost of inefficiency

Earlier this year in August, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested the NHS must adapt to survive because 'people are actually dying' due to inefficient record-keeping. Agrippa agrees, arguing that the challenge of creating a paperless NHS is achievable, but in his article for he makes it clear that it won't be easy:
I have spent the past decade working with a number of healthcare organisations across the country to try to tackle the digital NHS challenge through the development, implementation and integration of business intelligence solutions. In most places, I have come up against two major brick walls. First, many staff struggle to find the time to use technology to gather intelligence from their data. Second, they are wary about taking on the challenge of using the data itself and, as a result, shy away from the change.
Agrippa recognises that going paperless may prove too challenging for some NHS staff who are set in their ways. He writes at that even with intuitive technology that provides "easy-to-understand analysis" the right kind of people are also needed to instigate the change he sees as possible. He calls the NHS to take action:
We don’t need to complacently wait around for technology to improve to meet this challenge, but instead use the technologies available to us now to leapfrog our way closer to 2018.

Stepping forward  

In an article at, Agrippa tells information professionals "to step forward" to encourage the NHS to "embrace numbers in way in which, as private individuals, they embrace Facebook or Twitter, then as patients we will have a different experience." He envisions medical staff receiving the sort of "just in time" intelligence provided to fighter pilots on their helmet screens and believes that aesthetics matter in healthcare BI, because from his experience, surgeons seem to prefer good-looking dashboards to ugly pivot tables. (Notice how Doctors could use Google Glass.)

Clearly, from Agrippa's view, consumerisation trends are changing  the future of healthcare. He says: “We need to gravitate to our BI applications the way people gravitate towards Google." He also foresees the day when citizens can self-monitor their health with smartphones, or with Google Glass. Agrippa, himself, plans to start using a mobile device to monitor his vital signs to then be published to the web in real-time. Yet, in spite of these advances, he recognises that without the willingness of staff to change, "a paperless NHS could be something of a pipe dream."

Indeed, Agrippa alone cannot change NHS. To which Monitor chief executive David Bennett would add:
We are not going to make the numbers add up if we don't have this sort of innovation. (...) We must not rule out letting players outside the NHS from coming in and showing us how to do things differently.
Image: Health and nutrition work in one-room, white frame school near Ithaca, around 1920

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