NSW Health nurses data warehouse, wins award

Innovative restructuring of data architecture earns global gong for NSW Health.

The New South Wales' Department of Health was recently named a laureate of the 21st Century Achievement awards for improving the performance of its critical healthcare information system and data warehouse.

The awards, presented by the Computerworld Honours Program in the US, feature organisations that have used information technology to benefit society.

The Demand and Performance Evaluation Branch (DPEB) of NSW Health is responsible for collecting and maintaining large critical data collections, such as daily hospital events, births and medical waiting lists, for the nearly 7 million people that NSW Health services.

The DPEB also produces a wide range of reports on issues like patient demographics, emergency department performance, and also for external, government or planning purposes. The ultimate goal of the branch is to improve patient health and quality of service by providing accurate information and reporting quickly.

The DPEB was named a laureate of the awards for implementing a solution that revitalized and extended the life of its existing data warehouse with minimal hardware expenditure, improving its performance and providing much needed breathing space for a new data warehouse to be designed over the next few years.

Deputy director of the branch, Peter Brandt, said that information flows from across NSW into the branch's data warehouse, called the Health Information Exchange (HIE):

"NSW is split into nine area health services and each area has its own data warehouse. Data is collected at ground level from hospitals, outpatients clinic etc and is then fed into the area data warehouse. Then it is loaded from the area data warehouse into the departmental warehouse and that flows to us."

Combined management and administration loads on the previous system slowed the performance and delayed data delivery for the DPEB, which resulted in some data loads taking in excess of 40 hours, impacting on the branch's ability to deliver timely and accurate information.

"Basically we had a system which was both a reporting and data collection system, so what we wanted to do was try and take some of the load off the Health Information Exchange," Brandt said.

"So we've just left that as a production server now; we just load data onto it and let it crunch away on that data from all the area health services. All our reporting now runs off a new server."

The new server has taken the load off the HIE and improved its efficiency, reducing reporting time from hours down to minutes. It extended the life of the data warehouse, and added flexibility to accommodate additional data growth and a larger universe of users.

"We've had two wins. We've taken some of the pressure off the existing warehouse by taking reporting off - it was being utilized 95 percent of the time and now it's got a little more breathing space. And because reports are running off the [new] Sybase IQ server we've significantly saved on report writing time," Brandt said.

The Computerworld Honours program further noted specific achievements of the solution:

  • Load times decreased from over 40 hours to eight to 10 hours, while simultaneously accommodating an increase in tables.
  • Compression for the new configuration increased to 73 per cent of the previous storage requirement, saving both hardware and administration expenses.
  • Queries that routinely took five minutes were reduced to 45 seconds - and accessed larger data sets.
  • The project generated over 100% return on investment (ROI). Through extending the life of the existing hardware, and adapting its software solutions and workflow processes, NSW Health delivered on its promise to provide timely, accurate information to its users.

    The solution took around four months to implement and was delivered within budget. No additional staff were required, and data storage costs decreased as a result of the solution. Brandt said that other areas of NSW Health are considering how they can replicate the DPEB's success.

    "As far as I know at least one area has decided to go ahead and do what we did," he said.

    "This project is definitely a success. We've been able to improve our user's experience with queries as well as improve our operational efficiency. This helps us meet our stated goals and preserve our IT resources."

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