Hear from Mr Steven Tan, Principal Analyst, Data Management, Office of Insights and Analytics at SingHealth about the importance of data in healthcare, and the gaps to fill for successful digital transformation to occur.

There is no escaping the importance of data in the 21st century—just ask Mr Steven Tan. As Principal Analyst, Office of Insights and Analytics (OIA), Division of Digital Strategy (DDS) at SingHealth, data is his business.

Mr Tan’s belief in the importance of data has only strengthened over his decades in the field. He has seen first-hand how it plays a key role in the adoption of new processes and development of new digital solutions, and how data-driven insights can improve the patient experience. Now, he is on a mission to make this data accessible, comprehensible, and most importantly, useable for healthcare professionals.

One of Mr Tan’s latest projects is the deployment of Tableau Server to better track and present the status of patients in Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This offers clinicians a visually intuitive dashboard containing detailed information about the conditions of different patients.

“Everything is colour-coded, so in one easy glance, data that was previously presented in an Excel spreadsheet is now in an easily understandable format,” Mr Tan said. This translates to more efficient work processes and sharpened tracking and monitoring of patients – all allowing for a further enhanced care journey for patients.

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The human factor in turning information into insights

To successfully deploy technology like this, “people skills are very, very critical,” Mr Tan emphasised. This is especially in large organisations like SingHealth, where technology needs to be deployed to tens of thousands of people.

“Different user groups have different levels of expertise and stages of advancement, even when it comes to simpler things like the visualisation of data,” he explained. Liaising with these groups to understand their needs is therefore no mean feat, but Mr Tan thrives on the challenge. “I see myself as the bridge between the technicalities of the Information Technology (IT) department and the applications for healthcare professionals,” he shared.

His experience working with users has taught him that for data to be meaningful, one must first understand how the numbers can address issues close to their hearts.

For example, as an avid baker who even took a part-time diploma in the art and science of baking, Mr Tan loves to spend hours in the kitchen making bread, scones and more. Data is important to him in this role, because “you need to be precise with numbers and measuring down to the gram. Else, with the wrong data like quantity and ratios you won’t get the end product you set out to create,” he shared.

Similar to baking, using data in the healthcare clinical setting requires an understanding on the right combination of parameters to make it meaningful, which could translate into impactful follow-up actions. In the case of rising bed utilisation in the ICU wards at the peak of the pandemic, the visualisation of data in the Tableau Server, offered a solution for clinicians to manage the capacity and free up beds for new cases. The evolving pandemic, coupled with receptiveness to new technologies, allowed for innovative solutions to be deployed faster.

Democratising data to close the gap

With data being central to SingHealth’s digital transformation journey, making meaningful data easily accessible for those who need it is a priority area for Steven’s team.

“More often than not, when users go to the IT department and say they need data, IT will come back with an Excel spreadsheet containing a “wall” of data, without understanding what the user is specifically seeking and how they are going to use it,” he explained.

Obstacles can arise, even with information that may seem as simple as a patient’s height and weight, as data centres are not typically programmed to organise datasets, but merely to store them. “To us, this might seem intuitive, it’s a measurement taken from the patient! However, to find this data point, the IT department will need to sieve through multiple data repositories using various fields and a host of other filters before they can finally pinpoint what the user is seeking,” Mr Tan shared.

The solution to this challenge may lie in the democratisation of data, a journey that SingHealth is embarking on.

With multiple databases across SingHealth institutions managing sensitive information coupled with data protection measures, the route to data democratisation will be a long one.

Currently, the sensitivity of data means that users need to jump through multiple identification hoops from different organisations to seek out what they need. What Mr Tan hopes to do is to bring all of this data together into a centralised catalogue to increase accessibility to information, allowing teams to make agile and quick informed decisions with confidence.

 “We are confident that with this in place, we will be able to greatly benefit our patients and take healthcare to the next level!” he said.

No doubt, it will take time and effort to gather the people and resources to make this a reality, but to Mr Tan, the results are what make work as a data analyst meaningful.

“I love networking with people and have a strong sense of fulfilment when I am able to help them solve their business needs or answer their questions using data,” he concluded.

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