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Software that saves lives

Mary K. Patt | Aug. 12, 2008
Dr. Daniel Stålhammar, a neurosurgeon for 40 years, picked business intelligence software to improve patient outcomes and ultimately save lives.

"You could see these patterns with other tools, but it was much easier with QlikView," Stålhammar says.

Predicting Outcomes

Stålhammar wanted the application to process medical tests and observations from neurosurgery patients alongside likely outcomes, to determine patterns and the best treatment protocols.

"There are a number of predictors for head injury patients. You can weigh them together to get a score, and you can do that rather early and see [whether a] patient is in danger of a bad development," Stålhammar says.

The predictors include a patient's age, cranial pressure and white blood cell counts. Taken together, those metrics can indicate potentially life-threatening complications.

Stålhammar worked with the hospital IT staff to develop the tool, turning to Johan Rylander, a solutions consultant at QlikTech, for support. Although Stålhammar's use of QlikView isn't typical, pulling together the application wasn't particularly tricky, Rylander says.

"All the data sources were already defined. Dr. Stålhammar already knew what he needed, and I helped him to translate his ideas," explains Rylander.

But challenges still arose, of course. Stålhammar wanted to display several lab results in a single chart, yet those lab results all used different scales. Those differences forced Rylander to find ways to manipulate the code to create accurate, compatible and understandable displays.

It was also a challenge to integrate pictures, which take up a lot of memory, Rylander says. To deal with that, he put in links to pictures, allowing users to call up only the images needed without putting them in the QlikView file itself.

Stålhammar first started using QlikView in 2001. But after he retired in 2007, the project lost momentum -- a fate that can befall many IT initiatives that lack a project champion to lobby for them.

Meanwhile, Stålhammar's colleagues in other departments have expressed interest in the QlikView system but, he says, "the doctors in Sweden have been remarkably slow to adopt this new technology."

There is some movement, however. Dr. Peter Nyberg, chief of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, is following Stålhammar's example and using QlikView to analyze patient data to improve care.

"My interest is to get quick and reliable analysis from a quality system," Nyberg says, explaining that in the past, there have been challenges in connecting the different hospital databases and getting useful analysis from them.

Despite those earlier challenges, Nyberg decided to try QlikView based on Stålhammar's experience.

"Why should hospital personnel take hours or weeks [finding that data]? What they really want is to have the results," Nyberg says.

Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says he's not surprised by the doctors' use of QlikView. BI tools are reaching into every market segment, Evelson says, because they not only help improve productivity and efficiency, but also help organizations to remain competitive.


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