Can BI Help Battle Swine Flu? - InformationWeek

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9/9/2009
08:28 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Can BI Help Battle Swine Flu?

If you have school-bound children, as I do, no doubt you are reading the headlines about swine flu wondering how you, your children, your company will battle this year's flu season now that school is back in session... Business intelligence is helping monitor swine flu in a number of ways.

If you have school-bound children as I do, no doubt you are reading the headlines of swine flu wondering how you, your children, your company will battle this year's flu season now that school is back in session. It's the highly contagious, seemingly unavoidable aspect of swine flu that worries me. When you own your own company, there is no such thing as "paid sick days."

Business intelligence is helping monitor swine flu in a number of ways. Emergency Medical Associates (EMA) operates hospital emergency rooms in northern New Jersey and New York metro area. They have a relatively unique ability to collect patient data across multiple hospitals, on a daily basis, and then analyze it with SAP BusinessObjects (see graph)...NY Area Flu Complaints

I have previously written about EMA in my book Successful Business Intelligence, because of the unique ways they use BI to to improve patient care and manage costs. You can catch a glimpse of how they are now using BI to identify swine flu outbreaks in this video...

At the CDC, hospitals and other centers report data on a weekly basis, so there is a lag in knowing when an outbreak is occurring. That New Jersey, my home, has one of the highest pediatric death rates is alarming. But that's all I know, and yet, I have no doubt the data could tell us so much more.

Knowing an outbreak is occurring is helpful. However, identifying the patterns in who contracted it, where, when, and the severity, would be even more helpful. This is where advanced visualization tools fit in. While much of BI lets us answer questions that we know to ask (who, where, how many), advanced visualization tools allow for more exploratory type questions such as:

  • What characteristics do these people have in common?
  • Are they football players?
  • More boys than girls showing symptoms?
  • Does Mrs. Smith's class have more unusual absences than Mrs. Kane's?
I wish our town, our school, or even parents like myself could ask and answer these questions. In many cases, the data is there, but without the tools in place to explore the data, it's not actionable.

For an evaluation framework of advanced visualization tools, you can download a new BI Scorecard template here (site registration required). Also, I highly recommend visualization expert Stephen Few's latest book and this article by Seth Grimes.

So while much of the country awaits the release of the new flu vaccine, I'd like to see our schools and hospitals add BI to its arsenal of tools for battling an outbreak.

Regards, Cindi Howson, Founder, BI ScorecardIf you have school-bound children, as I do, no doubt you are reading the headlines about swine flu wondering how you, your children, your company will battle this year's flu season now that school is back in session... Business intelligence is helping monitor swine flu in a number of ways.

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