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The secret of powerful performance data: data management solutions at UKA

Ed Walker
Chartered Marketer Freelance Journalist Business Analyst Mannheim

University Hospital Aachen (UKA) is unique in Germany: it  combines every aspect of medical and dental patient care  under a single roof. UKA also provides common research  facilities for engineers, scientists and physicians. There  are currently 5,705 employees at UKA, of whom 67 are  professors, 882 are scientific and 4,756 are nonscientific  workers in 34 clinics, 23 institutes and in hospital  management. The central surgical department has a complement of more than 32 operating theatres, while another clinical centre specialises in outpatient care. The hospital treats 42,963 inpatients and 135,991 outpatients annually.

Since moving into the new clinical complex in 1984, UKA has  been responsible for coordinating the functions of almost  all Faculty of Medicine services: clinical, theoretical and  clinical–theoretical institutes, research establishments,  lecture rooms, schools for specialised occupations of the  health service, together with public utilities such as pharmacy, kitchen, laundry, central sterilisation, archive and stock. Training facilities at UKA are also state-of-the-art, catering for medical and dental students, in-service doctors and general trainees. Some 2,700 students of medicine and dentistry study at Aachen University of Technology.

The managerial challenges facing UKA
There are many advantages to placing teaching, research and medical care under one roof, but of course it also presents many serious managerial challenges, especially at the higher levels of management. UKA represents a huge investment in public healthcare, bringing together an extensive network of services and specialist activities. Delivering cost-effectiveness – optimum return on the investment – depends above all on effective information flows and comparable information to answer questions such as “Where is our organisation strong? Where is it weak? And, what are the root causes of such weaknesses?” Only when you have answers to these questions can you set priorities and targets for corrective action.

Yet as is usually the case in any large enterprise, public  or private, UKA had evolved with many heterogeneous IT  systems. “We had noncomparable analyses based on different analytical systems and nonuniform terminology,” comments Volker Lowitsch, CIO at UKA.

Integrating millions of records and many sources.
UKA stored data in a variety of sources, operational systems and file formats, with three key systems. First, the main hospital information system, Medico, was supplied by Siemens Medical Solutions and implemented in Oracle and Windows. Secondly, UKA used a laboratory information system, Swisslab, supplied by Frey. And thirdly, UKA had made a very significant investment in SAP’s R/3 enterprise resource management system, implementing the materials management, financial accounts, financial controlling and human resources modules.

“We are talking in terms of simply vast quantities of data,”  says Lowitsch. Approximately 3.4 million records are updated daily in Medico. Swisslab generates approximately 10 million records per year, while in SAP R/3 there are already 4.3  million records and growing, with the rapid expansion of extractable data from the financial intelligence and human resources modules.

“When you have so much data in different systems you  inevitably face data integration issues on a daily basis.  Managers want to combine medical and financial data to  analyse clinical effectiveness,” says Lowitsch. “In addition  there are major data quality issues.” For example, the  Medico and Swisslab systems contain information about the  same patients, and the Medico and SAP HR systems have data about the same doctors. Human error and different formats create difficulties when matching these records. However, the challenge for UKA was not simply one of reconciling information from incompatible systems. For example, a big problem existed within the systems SAP and Medico. SAP R/3  nd Medico were designed as an operational system, and it is notoriously difficult to extract data for high-level analytical purposes, especially if the data comes from applications (such as R/3 “instances”) written in different modules.

Reducing payment cycles and saving money
Recent German healthcare reforms introduced a new urgency to the challenge for UKA. In Germany, healthcare administration is split between the providers (such as hospitals) and the insurance companies (Krankenkassen) that pay the bills. Since the healthcare reforms, the two are required to settle their accounts on the basis of individual case episodes, and to make this possible, doctors must record their treatments according to predefined categories. The quicker and more accurately UKA can do this, the quicker it can bill the Krankenkassen – and given that the amounts involved run to more than a million euros per day, reducing delay can save UKA huge interest losses. So UKA could, quite literally, not afford to leave information in SAP or Medico, because of the limited analytical functions!

SAS Health Portal and SAS Business Intelligence
UKA therefore chose SAS to get control of its information  resources, with the SAS Health Portal and SAS Business  Intelligence solutions, including a balanced scorecard. SAS’  technology leadership in the sector, its long-term  commitment in science and research, its proven analytical  tools and multisupplier integration platform were all  important reasons for choosing SAS, but Lowitsch says that  the standard interface of SAS/ACCESS® to R/3 was critical.  Implementation of the first interface required some effort,  due to the internal complexities of SAP HR. But the creation  of further R/3 modules was less demanding, and likewise for the Medico interfaces. Moreover, the maintenance requirement remains low. So in early 2005, for the first time, decision-makers were getting value out of their SAP R/3 data, thanks to SAS. Lowitsch says, “There was high user acceptance of the new solution, especially because of the improved data quality.” These users include clinical  directors, consultants, medical and commercial controlling  managers, centre leaders and managing directors of UKA’s  business sectors. They access information through uniform  views provided by the SAS Health Portal, which was created within the framework of the pilot project, delivering end-user benefit in the minimum timeframe. Users can now get most of their reports in real time or almost immediately (for example, 80% of R/3 enquiries are processed within a day), instead of having to wait for the monthly reporting cycle within SAP or Medico. Lowitsch explains why this has transformed management practice: “Routine reports in Medico are converted very quickly now, often 1–2 days after the initial request. Before the introduction of SAS such queries required several weeks of effort – and often the queries could not be answered at all. As for SAP R/3, many queries could not be answered internally at all because of the inflexibility of SAP’s ABAP query tool, so we depended on external consultants.”

Optimising patient care
In practical terms, the ability to produce reports means  patients are more likely to be treated quickly, and at lower  cost. The planning of operations becomes more efficient if  you can produce reports that show where the problems are over the course of a long process. Reporting in SAS means that operating theatres, doctors and technicians are used optimally, minimising waiting times for patients and maximising revenue inflows from the Krankenkassen.

UKA has now brought all of its knowledge systems into a single enterprise-wide balanced scorecard solution with SAS Strategic Performance Management, supporting strategic management and governance of the entire hospital. In addition to hard facts and figures such as case data, the balanced scorecard provides information including levels of patient satisfaction and the success of interdisciplinary cooperation.


“With SAS we have placed our hospital-wide information  management on a completely new footing,” says Lowitsch.  “Thanks to SAS we are now communicating with a common  language at UKA: we can see all the important performance  data in virtually real time and we can have complete faith  in the integrity and consistency of our information. The SAS  System is highly reliable.”

Professor Dr Walther Behrendt, director of medicine at UKA  adds, “Without SAS, UKA management would not be able to make the rapid and goal-oriented progress that has already delivered demonstrable cost advantages.”