Decision Support Systems Rescuing Lives

heart-monitor-500Business intelligence has broken through the traditional four-walled office and has evolved into a tool that can be useful in other fields, as will be proven in its gradual integration with the medical field.

In Sahlgrenska University Hospital (Gothenburg, Sweden) Dr. Daniel Stålhammar felt that his hospital could break tradition by incorporating business intelligence software into the hospital’s record and data management systems. After 40 years of practicing neurosurgery, Dr. Stålhammar learned over the years that the key to a more efficient and effective hospital was to improve technological systems to manage large information databases.

Not only was he interested in incorporating a database management system, he was set on installing a decision support system (DSS) that would be able to handle both. A decision support system basically analyzes existing information to allow users to make more informed management decisions.

In light of the medical field and its needs, such analytic tools would enable doctors to analyze a patient’s medical history and symptoms against recognized medical measurements and predictions, and ultimately them to make proper decisions on whether a patient should be receiving specialized or costly care. Through such processes are doctors able to make more informed, as well as cost-effective medical decisions regarding their patients.

Stålhammar utilized software developed by QlikTech International AB called QlikView. QlikView fulfilled the exact needs that the medical hospital was searching for. By using QlikView, medical practitioners in the hospital were able to avoid making diagnoses that would cause more pain for the patient or more expensive care. It increased accuracy and reduced the likelihood of causing medical complications. Instead of utilizing several staff members day and night to do continuous analysis of information, QlikView allowed for automatic alerts which decreased the need for physical manpower to do the alerting.

Because of this pioneering use of QlikView, the Computerworld Honors Program recognized the innovation in their Business and Related Services category. By switching to Qlikview, Stålhammar (a techie by heart) found this to be a tremendous and positive step away from traditional Excel sheets to a bright technological future in hospital care.  Stålhammar expressed how computers have unquestionably increased the tendency to make more responsible medical decisions at a much faster rate.

He found that the search engines were capable of informative data results that could be displayed in visual representations. He felt that he made the perfect decision in using QlikView due to its speed and capabilities.

Reliable and safe predictions

Stålhammar found that the software could be very useful in predicting outcomes in his own specialty. By feeding the software the observations and medical results of certain patients, the software could process these against probable outcomes, thus verifying trends and how the patient can be best treated. Stålhammar gave an example of how for patients with head injuries, a number of predictors exist, wherein one can compare them and establish whether the injury develops positively or not. Such predictors, Stålhammar says, may include white blood cell count, a patient’s age, or even the cranial pressure. With this existing data, diagnoses become more accurate and reliable.

Johan Rylander of QlikTech has worked closely with Stålhammar as a consultant providing technical support for the hospital information technology staff. He reflected that the actual installation of the software application was less complicated than expected. This was largely attributed to Dr. Stålhammar’s established systems and information system in the hospital. With all the information intact and defined, all that was needed was for Dr. Stålhammar to explain what he envisioned and for Rylander to translate the vision into reality.

However, there will always be the occasional challenge to overcome in the software’s implementation. For instance, Rylander had to reprogram code that would allow for more precise, compatible and comprehensible displays. Also, the need to integrate images in the displays also posed a problem since images need a lot of memory. To solve this Rylander simply linked the image files which let users view images without having to reload them in different parts of the QlikView system.

There is also the challenge of sustainability, which seems to be the curse of every project in development. Dr. Stålhammar retired in 2007, six years after he began the implementation of QlikView. With his retirement went the enthusiasm and impetus of initiative. The project was losing its biggest supporter. Dr.  Stålhammar predicted a bleak future in his project, even though doctors of the other departments on Sahlgrenska University Hospital expressed interest in the QlikView software. He attributes this mainly to the slow adaptability of others to the technology.

But not all is lost. In the Department of Orthopedic Surgery of the same hospital, a Dr. Peter Nyberg (chief of the department) has become a follower in Stålhammar’s technological wake. He actively uses QlikView to make his diagnoses and to improve the care that he provides for them. He expressed that he wants to get results quickly and he wants the results to be dependable, which he finds true for the QlikView system.

A Forrester Research Inc. analyst, Boris Evelson, expressed that there was little surprise that the DSS tool has extended its reach to the medical field. He found that for an organization or company to remain competitive in a technologically-changing world, there will always be an evolving growth in cross-cutting with other sectors to stay in the race.

In the end, it makes a world of sense that business intelligence software is making its debut in the medical world. Correlating different economic and business data to pursue wise business decisions is not too different from grouping medical ailments and symptoms to enable a medical practitioner from making more accurate diagnoses and less costly prescriptions.

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