Analytics in health care: From BI to big data


Australia has one of the most developed health care systems in the world. The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show $14.2 billion was spent on the industry in 2011-12. The rate of growth in expenditure is currently higher than both population growth and expansion in the broader economy.

Given the vast amounts of data generated in the sector, it’s hardly surprising that health care organisations are keen to find ways of harnessing this information. The sheer volume and variety of data produced across medical care providers, consumers and ancillary service companies is staggering. This makes structuring, analysing and drawing insight from the information a significant challenge.

“Since we implemented QlikView, creating reports only takes a matter of minutes.”

Little wonder, then, that a rising number of organisations are looking at ways to optimise their data analytics tools and processes. Even if health care agencies are not working with big data in real terms, the amount of information created across ERP and other systems can be substantial.

Working with consultants who specialise in data analytics technologies is becoming increasingly necessary in the industry, as is deploying the best business intelligence (BI) solutions to facilitate insight generation.

Health care data projects in Australia

There are a number of examples of data analytics projects proposed or underway in the country. These range from BI projects that help businesses handle their data more effectively to large-scale big data initiatives that could lead to revolutionary changes in the way health care is delivered.

Let’s examine some of the different data analytics approaches health care organisations are currently taking.

BI solutions in health care

Mind Australia deployed the QlikView BI platform last year to better support the 18,000 people with mental health problems that the charity helps.

The software enabled Mind Australia to optimise reporting processes and enhance visibility across the organisation, according to an IDG Health article. The amount of data the charity held on clients, employees, financial matters and KPIs was considerable, which required a solution that could integrate multiple data streams into one.

“Since we implemented QlikView, creating reports only takes a matter of minutes,” said Peter Laws, the company’s general manager of information systems.

“We are able to automatically import data from any source across the entire organisation to create insightful reports; saving us time and enabling our staff to reallocate their time to more value added tasks.”

The bigger picture

On a larger scale, the federal government recently awarded the University of Queensland (UQ) a $7 million grant for a five-year big data research project. The money will go towards powerful infrastructure that will enable scientists to examine huge genomic datasets collected across hundreds of thousands of patients.

The focus of the research will be psychiatric and neurological conditions, such as dementia, autism, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. However, the analytical methods and tools the university plans to develop could be translated across other major health problems, including obesity and cancer.

Peter Hoj, UQ vice-chancellor and president professor, said big data has been instrumental in building social media and making dramatic changes in mineral exploration and weather forecasting.

“Transformation of the same magnitude is now coming to health care, as we move into the era of so-called personalised and precision medicine based on an individual’s genes,” he explained.

Big data in health care. Big data could lead to medical breakthroughs in numerous areas.

Addressing data analytics needs

Clearly, health care organisations are beginning to use their data in new and exciting ways. A 2014 study from Edith Cowan University highlighted a range of areas where leveraging big data could drive key changes in the industry.

Big data analytics can lead to better clinical decision support, more accurate insights into patient behaviours, cost-cutting measures and the effective management and handling of electronic health records.

Agencies must familiarise themselves with technologies that can support their desire for greater insights.

Nevertheless, organisations require sophisticated infrastructure in order to effectively manage the huge volumes of structured and unstructured data they produce. The MapR Converged Data Platform, a Hadoop product, is one example of a technology that is designed to cope with sizable datasets.

But how can businesses assess what tools they need to derive insights from their data? Health care agencies may not require big data platforms to effectively manage their information; smaller-scale solutions are likely to prove sufficient for many organisations hoping to streamline their operations and achieve core KPI targets.

Enlisting the services of experienced data analytics consultants allows health care professionals to identify and understand their BI needs, as well as design, develop and implement the appropriate solutions. Consultants can also offer dedicated training services to ensure organisations maximise the benefits of the platforms they use to leverage insights.

Ultimately, as data becomes increasingly central to health care strategies, agencies must familiarise themselves with technologies that can support their desire for greater insights. Failing to do so is likely to lead to a loss of competitiveness, content chaos and faltering innovation.