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SPG and SAS Take On Big Data

“Big Data” is getting bigger all the time, particularly in medicine and life sciences, where genomic data, clinical trial data, electronic health records and research study data come by the terabyte and petabyte. The challenge, and the future, lies in organizing it, managing it, bringing it together and presenting it in ways that facilitate analysis that yields useful intelligence, important discoveries and better decision-making.

Stepping up to meet that challenge, this month the Division of Research’s Strategic Programming Group (SPG) hosted the largest SAS training they’ve ever held and invited fellow programmers from other departments throughout the Northern California regions.

SAS is an industry leader in business analytics software and services, and has worked with Kaiser Permanente since the North Carolina-based company was founded 35 years ago. Health care is one of SAS’s three largest market segments, together with financial services and government.

The idea of “cross-pollinating” programmers from various KPNC departments that use SAS platforms was initiated by Jamila Gul, Administrative Director for Strategic Programming, and supported by DOR Director Dr. Tracy Lieu.

“These are all people using SAS software for varied purposes,” Gul said of the 130 programmers who attended the training in person and the many others who attended via WebEx. “SAS’s updated software has new features that they can use in many ways to enable better data analysis. It’s only natural that collaboration among them, beginning with training, will help them optimize these new functionalities.”

Big data equals volume, velocity and variety, according to the training session’s keynote speaker, Dr. Graham Hughes, Chief Medical Officer of the SAS Institute. “Keeping up with medical and research data is exceeding human processing capability because the complexity exceeds cognition,” he explained. “We need maps to guide us through the volumes of data in the form of high-powered analytics that can integrate health data silos and deliver the right information and insightful analysis at the right time across the health care spectrum.”

The evolution of analytics reflects the need to move beyond data to insights for forecasting and optimization of resources, and more sophisticated uses of information in all areas of health care and life sciences.

One of the intriguing new tools featured in the training session is text mining or text analytics, which refers to the process of deriving high-quality information from written text. In the environment of Kaiser Permanente, that could include such things as physicians’ notes, call center recordings, case management notes and pathology reports. The objective is to turn text into data through language analysis to uncover issues, trends and patterns.

“The initial set-up for an advanced tool like text mining is rigorous, but it opens up a whole new sphere of data and research,” noted SAS presenter Andrew Marzano. “Organizing unstructured data like text for search, retrieval and reporting adds better insight into predictive models than structured data alone. For example, you might use case management data to help predict a patient’s adherence to a treatment regimen.”

A highlight of the training session was a demonstration of SAS’s Business Intelligence (BI) tools created by Matt Clarke, a KPNC application development expert. Clarke showed how BI can be used to develop dashboards as a visual interface for a great deal of aggregated and disaggregated data — in this case, a TPMG Physician Performance Dashboard.

“The quality of this presentation was really enhanced by Matt’s and SAS’s desire to showcase the BI features with Kaiser Permanente data,” said Gul. “It helped people relate so much better to a new product. SAS went the extra step to alleviate the fear of the unknown or new by using data we recognize. And, by training so many programmers from so many areas of the organization, they helped us jump-start the kind of networking we want to encourage among all our programmers.”

“SAS Training Day was a great example of the symbiotic relationship between Kaiser Permanente and SAS,” Gul added. “It is a mutually advantageous and enduring relationship based on SAS’s recognition of Kaiser Permanente’s preeminence in health care and research data, and our recognition of SAS’s expertise and sophisticated technology in data analytics.”

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