IT Coordinator at the Belgian Poison Center (Belgisch Antigifcentrum– Centre Antipoison Belge)
When people’s lives depend on correct data
Belgian Poison Center relies on SAS
The mission of the Belgian Poison Center (Belgisch Antigifcentrum / Centre Antipoison Belge) is literally to save people’s lives. In order to do that, it needs data which is complete, accurate and utterly trustworthy. Since the data is often used — among its many other applications — to support individuals by phone, it must be clear, concise and responsible. When someone may be suffering from acute poisoning at that very moment, the quality of this data can literally save lives. Poison Center has switched to SAS to fulfill their needs concerning statistics and reporting outcomes.
First-line in combating poisoning
Poison Center is available 24/7 by telephone to provide first-line information on acute poisoning. This government supervised organization processes more than 56,000 calls per year from the public and professional environment (e.g. general practitioner, veterinarian, ...) and meticulously records every aspect of an intervention, from the type of poison over the age and sex of the victim involved, as well as the symptoms identified, to the products. The center also maintains a considerable stock of antidotes which can be used in the event of an emergency. In addition, the center uses the logs from their calls to delivers statistical information to the Ministry of Health, the press, etc. and collects data about household products, biocides, pharmaceuticals, etc. that are sold within the country.
SAS enables us to track developments and trends faster and more accurately. This has been the basis for launching new, more appropriate prevention campaigns to protect the public.
Moving from MS Access to SAS
Initially, Poison Center used MS Access, driven by a number of smaller programs that were programmed by a physician working at the facility, to process their data and compile reports. As these programs were not dynamic, nothing could be changed without extensive reprogramming. That all began to change when François Wuyts started to use MySQL along with the necessary queries to make up statistical reports.
“Then I observed a comparative demonstration of several statistical software packages. I was immediately impressed by the capabilities of SAS. Shortly thereafter, we decided to contact SAS, who brought us into contact with SBI Consulting, a SAS partner. In 2015, SBI helped us with installing and implementing SAS Visual Analytics within our environment. Thanks to their expertise, we managed to get everything up and running rather quickly.”
Dissolving grey data areas
When the SAS solution was operational, it became obvious that there were significant shortcomings in the database. For example, physicians were freely interpreting the distinction between voluntary and accidental intoxication, which obviously led to ‘grey areas’ in the data. The knowledge of those shortcomings was of great value during the functional analysis and the development of the new system, which made it possible to eliminate most of these grey areas and to make the data more accurate and reliable in the future.
Quick access to data speeds up decision making
“All of the functionalities and features we need can be filled in with SAS. Simply put, SAS helps us to fulfil our mission in a far better and much more efficient way than ever before. When dealing with statistics, most of the time we simply need concrete figures from our data. Complicated statistical calculations are seldom needed. We need data such as the age categories of the victims who were poisoned by a particular product, or a particular drug in a certain period of the year, or the amount of therapeutical mistakes, due to for example an accidental overdose or the accidental change of a drug. SAS enables us to have this information much more quickly. This in turn enables us to track developments and trends far faster and more accurately. This has been the basis for launching new, more appropriate prevention campaigns to protect the public.”
When asked if and how SAS makes life at Poison Center easier, Wuyts explains: “SAS helps us to make the data more transparent and shows us how to get the most from it. What we really appreciate is the powerful combination of the analytical and visual aspects of the software. SAS also provides solid accompaniment and intelligent suggestions by means of the Explorer module. So, does SAS makes life easier? Absolutely.”
Saying goodbye to the paper era
Poison Center employs 30 people, of which 13 are physicians. “The physicians manning the telephone lines are extremely well-versed in dealing with potential poisoning emergencies. Once they have solved the emergency, they write down the details from every call, for instance the household products involved, type of poisoning or information about the patient, the observed symptoms and the proposed treatments” explains François Wuyts, IT coordinator at Poison Center. "Until quite recently, all this was done on paper."
These call sheets were then scanned several times a week and the resulting data was fed into SAS. Despite the advanced OCR (Optical Character Recognition) techniques employed, the typical doctors’ handwriting was often difficult to read correctly. This, of course, could lead to errors in the data being recorded subsequent to the emergency. Another problem was that when the call sheet was written, the toxic substances which were the subject of the call are not always clearly connected to specific products, such as detergents or washing pods, in the database, making it troublesome to use the data to generate trustworthy statistics.
“Moreover, linking the sheet with our product database required quite a bit of manual work, leaving room for human error. Such an approach was obviously outdated, which is why we recently made the switch to a new system which is built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Our doctors can now fill in the details of an intervention electronically and very easily indicate the product category and specific product involved. We can even download an overview of all medicines from the pharmacy association and upload it into our new system. This move has drastically improved our efficiency and our accuracy. Two criteria that are crucial in fighting poisoning," adds François Wuyts.
Linking CRM to SAS
The recent switch to the CRM platform also meant a change in how the center feeds data to SAS. No more scanned documents, but digital records from Microsoft Dynamics are now the basis for our statistics. "I've always been more than satisfied by the service SBI Consulting has offered us in regard to SAS software. Moreover, it was SBI who introduced us to our CRM partner. It's reassuring to know they have the right connections in the IT world, to help us with questions, about for example CRM, that don't necessarily fall within their area of expertise. All that considered, they were the logical choice to execute this new stage in our SAS story, almost 4 years after the initial implementation," says François Wuyts.
More innovation in sight with SAS and SBI
The Belgian Poison Center keeps looking for better ways to help patients who have been poisoned. Digitalization of call sheets was one way, but the center has ambitions beyond that, explains Wuyts: "While we now create static PDFs with our data, in the future we want to move towards online dashboards. We'll visually present the data in clear statistics that are updated in real-time so that we can work more pro-actively when certain unexpected situations are occurring. We know SAS can do this and we're eager to explore the possibilities with SBI Consulting."