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Data-driven health provides a glimpse into the future

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

When Production Engineer Ian Shields joined Canterbury District Health Board in 2011, he was told to "make the invisible visible".

His first job, he says, was to find out what that meant.

Canterbury DHB was collecting a lot of data - it even had a ‘data warehouse’ to store it in - but Ian says it wasn’t being used to its full potential.

"We were at a point where we were data rich, but we were information poor," he says.

"You need to be able to see it. If you can’t see it, if you can’t tell a story, you’re wasting your time."

Today Canterbury DHB boasts an advanced data system, much of which any staff member can access. It uses trends to predict upcoming demand, such as the number of beds needed in a given ward with a high degree of accuracy.

Ian works in the "Seeing Our System" operations centre in Christchurch Hospital where up-to-the-minute information is collated from all over the Canterbury Health System. The room also sends information to large display screens throughout Canterbury DHB hospitals, and make it accessible to any staff on any computer.

It helps steering groups and management make good planning decisions, and supplies information to the Nursing Operations Centre where staff use it to respond in real time.

Ian says that in the past clinical staff mostly worked using the information coming from their own department, but they were affected by the whole system and hampered by what they didn’t know and couldn’t predict.

A delay in radiology, for example, affects the whole hospital system because a postponed patient scan will delay other services.

Ian sees his role as providing quality information at the right time (real time) so people can make the best decisions.

"We have shied away from telling people what to do. You tell them a story so they understand for themselves what they need to do."

Canterbury DHB’s focus on data-driven health has helped the organisation drastically increase efficiency in many areas.

For example, an analytics program called Signals From Noise - developed by UK company Lightfoot Solutions - helps analyse which health initiatives are working, and informs whether we should keep them, improve them, or try something else.

The software helped Canterbury DHB understand its community falls prevention programme, which is successfully reducing the number of falls and the harm they cause, particularly among older people.

Signals From Noise interprets and presents data visually from the emergency department, admissions, surgical theatres, radiology, outpatients, nursing, St John and other sources to show whether the programme is reducing the number of falls patients, their length of stay in hospital, and improving quality of life by keeping them mobile and independent for longer.

Now hospital beds that would have been used for falls patients are freed up so that we don’t need as many beds overall.

"Data-driven health will continue to expand and evolve at Canterbury DHB. Christchurch Hospital wards will soon receive 22 new computers, and work is under way to provide new data feeds, automate processes, and predict future trends. Our aim is to use our data to make sure our existing capacity is as productive as it can be," says Ian.

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