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GCN : August 2014
ANALYTICS The Alabama Medicaid Agency is looking to data visualization soft- ware to help health care decision- makers sort and understand clinical and treatment data on more than 1 million state residents. Using SAS Visual Analyt- ics (VA), the agency can examine data on illnesses, treatments and costs, segment- ed by population and geography. "We had some ability, obviously, to find and utilize data," agency Medical Director Dr. Robert Moon said. But the agency had difficulty turning that data into graphs, charts and dashboards for decision mak- ers. "Sometimes with the audiences we interact with, a picture is worth a lot and really helps tell the story." The tool from SAS, a business analytics software and services company, lets users sift through any size data set to find pat- terns and show results in charts, graphs and animations. "With Visual Analytics, we could make dashboards that could effectively com- municate information and provide the decision-makers some ability to dig in and answer some questions of their own," said Chris McInnish, director of quality analytics at the agency. "One of our problems is we have more information than we can get our arms around, and this really helps us get that narrowed down, so we can see it and un- derstand it and then communicate it on up," he added. The SAS visualization tool also ad- dresses the challenge of keeping data fresh. In the past couple of years, the agency took the management of its data out of third-party hands and moved it back to in-house databases. That made getting to data easier and faster, but presentation was still an issue. McInnish s goal was to have something that could be built once and easily main- tained. So once the agency launched the visualization app, "then all we had to do was keep the background data up-to-date and make changes as necessary," he said. The Adult Health Quality Measures Grant, awarded to the agency by the Cen- ters for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is paying for much of the work. Conse- quently, the agency also uses the tool to study healthcare quality by looking at, for example, what age group uses a cer- tain procedure code or how the Alabama agency compares to its counterparts in other states. McInnish was preparing to release the first public tool using the SAS VA based on claims analysis. It allows Medicaid analysts to look at chronic conditions and conduct research using procedure and di- agnosis codes. The agency began setting up SAS VA last fall, and started standing up tools in March. It uses existing primary data man- agement tools and migrates them to SAS by creating a data set specifically for a project. "We structure all of our data go- ing into SAS VA specifically for SAS VA," McInnish said. "We are still a SQL shop, and our data is still stored and managed in SQL." Because much of the data is protected health information, the agency keeps its datasets and computing resources behind the agency s firewall, he said. To use the tool, analysts must be registered in the agency s system and again specifically for access to SAS VA. McInnish and another team member are also testing SAS VA on iPads, but for now the work remains on-site. So far the focus has been on initial proj- ects by the core team, he said, but they re now trying to build tools that are useful to specific programs. "As we see a need where this is the right tool, we re trying to push those tools out and let people have access to it and see how they respond. "Our theory of change is that if we give people access to information in a way that s not overwhelming and not too com- plicated, then they ll enjoy that, use that and then start coming to us with addition- al questions that we can respond to." • Alabama Medicaid is tapping visualization tech to simplify and streamline health care trend analysis with graphics, patterns and dashboard tools How visualization helps Alabama chart healthcare BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ 32 GCN AUGUST 2014 • GCN.COM "Sometimes with the audiences we interact with, a picture is worth a lot and really helps tell the story." -- DR. ROBERT MOON, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, ALABAMA MEDICAID