They look at numbers and see more.

“We like data. We like numbers. We see a story in the numbers and the data, not just figures. And we take great pride in supporting our system by understanding statistics, and helping our stakeholders to use that information to better the patient experience.”

That’s what the 12-person team that makes up Saskatoon Health Region’s Strategic Health Information and Performance Support (SHIPS) department does, according to SHIPS manager Leanne Blahut.

 The SHIPS team includes (front row, from left): Navjot Singh, Leanne Blahut, Nendi Mulyadi, Amrit Deol. Back row: Joan Bauml, Jennifer Zerff, Barb McGarry, Leslie Olson, Vanessa Pozniak, Anita Stadnyk, Sheree Tesch, Ian Necesito. Missing from photo: Jeanette Wagner and Ketan Katrodiya.

The SHIPS team includes (front row, from left): Navjot Singh, Leanne Blahut, Nendi Mulyadi, Amrit Deol. Back row: Joan Bauml, Jennifer Zerff, Barb McGarry, Leslie Olson, Vanessa Pozniak, Anita Stadnyk, Sheree Tesch, Ian Necesito. Missing from photo: Jeanette Wagner and Ketan Katrodiya.

“Our team analyzes and displays data to the entire organization for decision-making purposes,” she explained.  “We work closely with clinical partners to examine the information available to us. Then we use our analytical skills to interpret those numbers which help leaders make decisions about which programs to offer and where we might focus our efforts on potential improvements to existing programs,” she said.

The services they provide, Blahut notes, are all in support of good patient outcomes and patient safety.  “That’s why all of us are here – to provide better patient care. As a support department, we help frontline staff by analyzing and explaining data so that they can do what they do best – providing the best patient experience possible. We help identify areas for improving the delivery of safer patient care and ensuring a safer clinical work environment.”

The requests for information they receive are wide and varied. Sometimes the requests start out simply – “I need the number of emergency department visits at St. Paul’s Hospital in a year,” Blahut said. But often, those requests get more complicated as SHIPS staff work with their stakeholders. As the SHIPS team drills down into what the requestor actually needs, that simple question can evolve into, “I need the emergency department volumes for each day of the week for patients who are currently over age 65 and managing a chronic disease.”

“A lot of the work we do is with the stakeholders, trying to understand the nature of what they are looking for,” said Blahut.  “The more complex questions are those that involve an intersection of more than one clinical service area.”

For the most part, the answers to the questions SHIPS is asked comes from information gathered from patient records, which are coded into a database by the Region’s Health Records department.

“We use the data obtained from patient records and several other data sources to answer the questions we are asked,” Blahut noted. “Depending on the nature of the question, we work with the Public Health Observatory and eHealth support teams to pull data from population health based information or other clinically relevant data from the bed management system.”

SHIPS doesn’t just provide numbers, they analyze those numbers to translate data into useful information. Those who work here need to have a sense of what the numbers mean, not just what they are. Technical savvy is another indispensable asset as the team works with a variety of software applications.

“We have very bright and motivated people who are eager to move with the times,” Blahut said. “I’m very fortunate to work with such a great team. Everyone here knows their job inside and out.”

The vantage point from SHIPS gives the entire department a great overview of the organization, they said.

“We get to see the operations of the entire health region and how the departments communicate with one another,” said Ian Necesito, Health Information Management Analyst with SHIPS.

Requests can get complex, the analysts said, and that’s something they have to get used to.  But they can see the patterns in the numbers, the stories of ups and downs in the region.

“We are the go-to people. If you need data, don’t hesitate to call, and we can walk you through it,” said analyst Amrit Deol.

“We have access to many databases,” said Project Co-ordinator Vanessa Pozniak, “and our range of data sources is growing.”

The improvements made over the past year, since the 14-Day Challenge and the 90-Day Cycles of Improvement, have opened the eyes of many in the Region to the importance of data in decision making, the analysts noted.

“It was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Pozniak said, “when so many people realized that they could access concrete data to measure how well an improvement idea would work.”

“In the last 18 months, as decisions have become even more data-driven, SHIPS has been in the limelight,” said Navjot Singh. “We’ve had the opportunity to present data in a way never seen before, and to help everyone make more informed decisions.”

The job is fulfilling for Project Co-ordinator Leslie Olson because of the opportunity to participate with other departments. “There are a lot of teams, a lot of initiatives, and we get to play a unique role in the support we provide.”