Dutch hospital brings analytics to the workplace

From data warehouses to data visualization, Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei expands analytics from back office to patient care

Like many modern hospitals, Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei has implemented an organizational structure that is based on results, with a system that measures performance for individual profit centers or units. This means that business decisions are made at lower levels within the organization. To provide these units with a way to measure performance and plan for the future, Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei implemented SAS® Visual Analytics. In five questions, Rik Eding, a data specialist for the hospital, gives an impression of the importance of this technology and how it affects his organization.


How important is data for your organization?

Rik Eding: In 2005, health care in the Netherlands was liberalized. In that same year, we started building a data warehouse and implementing business intelligence (BI). In those early days, we used SAS only in the finance department. But throughout the years, we collected more and more care-related information in our data warehouse so we could examine our primary processes. Analyzing care data also helps us interact better with the insurance companies. After all, the hospital has a much better view of the market share than the insurer.

One of our lung specialists requested to include data from the Royal Meteorological Institute in our data warehouse… now they can use weather patterns to better predict when patients are more likely to have breathing complaints, and adapt the treatment accordingly.

Rik Eding
Data specialist

Whenever necessary and relevant, we can also add external data sources to our data warehouse. One example is patient social background information from the Institute of Social Research. It is commonly known among doctors that people of a lower socioeconomic standing have a higher mortality rate. One of our doctors wanted to link patient diagnoses with socioeconomic backgrounds to better understand mortality risks. This way, we can better treat each patient based on his or her individual situation.

Who uses the obtained insights – and what for?

Eding: The entire hospital uses the information. As indicated earlier, we started with BI in the finance department and steadily started adding new sources to our data warehouse so we could do more analyses. We have now invested in SAS Visual Analytics so we can provide our units with timely information.

Previously, our colleagues on the floor could not produce reports or generate analyses. They used to ask us to do that for them. In our experience, every report we make generates 10 subsequent questions. With SAS Visual Analytics, we give them the tools to create these reports themselves – and find the answers.

How do analytics and visualization help with decision making in your hospital?

Eding: It helps in many ways. We analyze logistical processes around patients, and this allows us to identify potential bottlenecks. An example is a recent discovery that the average period patients had to wait to get treated for hernias had gone up. When we looked closer at the data, however, we found that two patients had postponed their operations due to holidays. When we left those two cases out, it turned out that the average waiting period had in fact gone down. This is meaningful information. In another example, one of our lung specialists requested to include data from the Royal Meteorological Institute in our data warehouse. Based on that data, now they can use weather patterns to better predict when patients are more likely to have breathing complaints, and adapt the treatment accordingly. This is fantastic, of course.

What results has Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei achieved with visual analytics?

Eding: We are currently in the middle of rolling out the solution, and we still look forward to reaping real, measurable results. We are not worried, though. There is plenty of low-hanging fruit. Analytics has come a long way from being just the tool of the finance department that it once was. It has long since become a part of the care process itself, initially to monitor the KPIs, such as the waiting lists, length of hospital stay and the number of treatments. Now, it is used increasingly in medical areas. As a result, we are able to really improve the quality of care, and the financial people are happy with that as well. It often means a reduction in costs. It goes both ways.

What do you still hope to achieve with analytics and visualization?

Eding: I’d like for everybody to catch the analytics bug. As a BI team, we can provide reports, but the units know which information they need the most. This is also the reason why my role keeps moving more from data specialist toward information analyst. I help the individual cost centers along and stimulate them to generate their own ideas for possible analyses. It’s a fun job, because with a tool like SAS Visual Analytics, it's easy to get people excited. It looks great and it is easy to use.

Whenever I explain, users start beaming with creativity, and they will ask, “Can I do this or that, too?” There is a danger in that, though. I notice with me, that it’s pretty addictive to dig deeper and deeper all the time. Once you have established the broad lines, you keep going to find new correlations. It’s hard to stop. Before you know it, our psychiatrists are going to be working overtime, treating their own colleagues from this new form of addiction [laughter]. When that happens, I will have reached my goal.


Give business units a way to measure performance and plan for the future.


SAS® Visual Analytics


Physicians and other end users can now easily incorporate weather and socioeconomic data to make predictions and inform diagnoses.

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