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Highmark Delivers Data Analysis Using Futrix OLAP Tool

Published
  • July 01 2003, 1:00am EDT
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REVIEWER: John Boyer, programmer analyst for Highmark's Healthcare Informatics Division.

BACKGROUND: The companies that formed Highmark were founded during the 1930s to help Pennsylvanians pay their medical bills. Since then, the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit company has grown to become one of the largest health insurers in the United States. Highmark's corporate mission ­ to help people live longer, better ­ is supported by a comprehensive product portfolio of insurance products including health, dental, vision, life and casualty, and other employee benefit services throughout the state of Pennsylvania and in all 50 U.S. states.

PLATFORMS: Highmark's Warehouse is housed in a Teradata v2R4.1 database located on a 4-node Teradata 5250 platform. Futrix v3.1 runs on top of SAS v8.2 utilizing Base SAS, SAS/Graph, SAS/MDDB, SAS/IntrNet and SAS/Access to PC File Formats, installed on a Solaris 3500 application server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: To provide coverage for all members and remain financially viable, Highmark must monitor trends in claim utilization for early detection of unexpected trends, thus allowing for corrective action, which might include care management, disease prevention programs, fraud detection, cash/reserve adjustments, rate adjustments and more. Before Futrix, Healthcare Informatics' analysts created reports using key indicators with a suite of ad hoc programs and standard reports, usually executed in batch, against large claim warehouses and data marts. The primary audience for these reports consisted of product managers and customer segment group managers and were categorized by subject areas: claims, financial, pricing premium, administration, customer, care management, membership, benefit design and miscellaneous. Expected turnaround was measured in hours, days or longer. Programming skills among analysts were not universal, and some relied on outside sources for their reports. Analysts with programming skills still had the burden of extracting and manipulating data before addressing the analytics of a particular business problem. An easy-to-use OLAP tool was needed to help analysts provide these reports more quickly, consistently and with more depth.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: By introducing Futrix, specifically the intranet-enabled component Futrix Web, Healthcare Informatics' analysts can now quickly and easily answer business questions. With its interactive interface, analysts are not only getting their answers more quickly, but they are able to ask additional questions and gain insight not previously available due to time constraints. Already, more than 1,400 queries are made each month with an average response time of less than 6 seconds utilizing Teradata tables of up to 37 million rows, 24 dimensions and 34 measures. Moving to the browser interface of Futrix Web, analysts can spend less time programming and extracting data, and more time analyzing key indicators and providing critical information on a timely basis to customers. Futrix eases the administration of building "key indicators" data cubes and providing intranet access to them for queries and analytical reporting.

STRENGTHS: Futrix provides extreme flexibility with respect to customizing its interface along with providing excellent administrative tools and seamless integration with the existing Teradata data warehouse. It maximized the limited resources of the decision support systems department by enabling staff to focus its expertise on building and tweaking the infrastructure of an OLAP key indicators application for the Healthcare Informatics division.

WEAKNESSES: Futrix itself is point-and- click and easy to set up and administer; but UNIX expertise as well as custom SAS and SQL code were required of the decision support systems' staff to achieve overall system performance near the goal of five-second response time for queries.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Highmark was already a SAS shop with extensive SAS experience, and using a SAS third-party software such as Futrix was the easiest way for Healthcare Informatics to add powerful OLAP capabilities. Other OLAP software was considered, but Futrix stood out for its combination of features and flexibility.

DELIVERABLES: OLAP queries are now possible by simply using a Web browser. Using Futrix permitted the delivery of data cubes ­ which addressed the need for key indicators analyses without programming skills and on a timely basis ­ to business customers, thereby extending analytical reporting capabilities outside of technical/programming areas within Healthcare Informatics.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Support from Futrix has been nothing short of outstanding. Not only was Futrix able to troubleshoot Highmark's problems with fast turnaround, but they also took input from decision support systems' staff to further enhance their product to better serve Highmark's needs.

DOCUMENTATION: Futrix provides excellent documentation and support of its software.

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