CATEGORY: Query & Reporting and OLAP

REVIEWER: Kim Price, RN and decision support coordinator for Centra Health.

BACKGROUND: Centra Health, which provides hospital and outpatient care for people throughout central Virginia, offers the most comprehensive level of service available in the region. A not-for-profit organization, Centra Health employs 3,500 people and operates two hospitals in Lynchburg, as well as smaller healthcare facilities throughout the area.

PLATFORMS: The data resides on OS/390 and a Windows NT server. SAS software is running on the NT server with a small component running on a Windows client. OS/390 is an IBM mainframe.

PROBLEM SOLVED: To enhance patient care, increase efficiency and lower operating costs, Centra Health needed to evaluate subjective practices in both the business and art of medicine. This, however, required analyzing up to 20 million records. Before SAS, data had to be gathered manually, and understanding long-term trends could take months, if it was possible at all. There was simply no way to examine factors such as drug utilization and readmission rates. With SAS, the appropriate Centra Health staff members can now access and analyze business intelligence data, including billing information, procedures, demographics and other relevant data, whenever and wherever they please.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SAS allowed us to far surpass what we had been capable of doing before. Using online analytical processing (OLAP) technology from SAS and SAS/IntrNet, SAS retrieves answers to multidimensional business questions quickly and easily, providing efficient access to summarized data. A Windows-based, point-and-click template enables decision-makers to perform most of their own analysis. We discovered a lot of additional questions we could answer. Previously, we had been limited to length of stay and financially oriented information. With SAS, we're doing things that other hospitals are unable to do without contract consultants.

STRENGTHS: The greatest advantage SAS offers is not only improved patient care, but also fast turnaround. Management is constantly amazed at how quickly we can answer their questions. We're also able to manage data from a variety of platforms. If a clinical item isn't reported in our data (such as antibiotic timings that are tracked in Excel), we can access that information, tie it back to what we're doing and see how it's affecting length of stay, charges or other critical measures. We are also able to interface with a variety of databases including Lotus Notes. We use SAS to send sbulk e-mails with links back to our secure environment. SAS gives us a variety of options to report and query our data.

WEAKNESSES: SAS can be very expensive, but we believe "you get what you pay for." It does involve training time for our staff, and SAS can be difficult for nontechnical people to follow.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We chose SAS because it is very flexible, and we knew that we would need to analyze data on a wide variety of platforms and from multiple databases. We needed an open architecture and robust reporting and query tools to analyze not only financial data but also market-share information as well as clinical information.

DELIVERABLES: Using a Windows-based template, end users can conduct extensive analysis on their own, viewing scenarios from different perspectives and generating charts, tables or advanced reports to identify trends, key performance indicators and critical success factors. For reports that go beyond what can be done in a menu- driven format on the desktop, they can turn to the decision-support group. We also use SAS to support tools to measure our key indicators, track patient safety issues and help with the budget process. Reports and graphs are available on our internal Web site for our employees.

VENDOR SUPPORT: SAS helped immensely in the pre-implementation phase. They helped us design a data model for the creation of our data repository. Post- implementation we still use their employees' vast knowledge to help us leverage their technologies. We utilize their technical support and consulting services for any new developments. The best part of working with the vendor is the knowledgeable professionalism of their staff.

DOCUMENTATION: SAS documentation has been very good. We use the documentation manuals both in hard copy and online. We found the examples of code in the documentation to be very useful. However, we also chose to send our people to the SAS classes, which were well done, to take advantage of the expertise of their staff.

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