Helping tell a story through data

A typical health system compiles troves of data from more than a dozen sources, including electronic health records, insurance claims and Press Ganey reports. There's no shortage of Excel files and pivot tables to be created and analyzed.

Effectively analyzing all that data has become increasingly important to the successful operations of healthcare providers, whether it's to determine where they have gaps in care, assess their population health management initiatives, or reduce costs for episodes of care.

Enter Tableau, a Seattle-based firm that was founded in 2003. Its goal is to allow data analysts in healthcare and other industries to build multidimensional data sets that visually represent all the salient information so organizations can effectively use that data to improve their operations.

One New York City health system, for instance, was able to use the software to map the ratio of patients to providers in different areas of the city. Tableau claims that its software can build a data dashboard in eight minutes or less, and can combine data from disparate data sources with a quick drag and drop.

“It actually (has) turned the business analyst into a hero,” said Andy De, Tableau's managing director for healthcare and life sciences.

Tableau was born at Stanford University, where a Ph.D candidate named Chris Stolte was researching how visualization techniques can help with data analysis. His faculty adviser was Pat Hanrahan, a professor at Stanford's Computer Graphics Laboratory and a founding member of Pixar, the famed computer animation studio working with the movie industry. “Tableau literally has storytelling built in,” De said.

  • Founder: 2003

  • Co-founders: Chabot, Chris Stolte and Pat Hanrahan

  • Innovation: Data visualization software that helps companies combine and analyze disparate data sources

  • Status:Tableau went public on the NYSE in 2013.It had 32,000 customer accounts as of mid-2015 and posted revenue of $413 million in 2014.
  • That technology is now being used by healthcare providers to understand the story lines going on in their facilities. The dashboards also are easy to share among a range of stakeholders, including physicians, administrators and quality-improvement staff.

    A 2014 survey from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found that Tableau was the most commonly used data visualization software among the 1,800 respondents. It was trailed by Information Builders, QlikTech and Tibco Spotfire. About 20% of respondents said they currently use Tableau's software and another 20% plan to in the future.

    Tableau, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013, has clients across 24 industries, but healthcare is its fastest-growing market, De said. Tableau's revenue at the end of last year reached $412.6 million, a 78% increase over the previous year.

    Tableau's dashboards have enabled Community Health Center Network, a safety net provider in the San Francisco Bay Area, to get a better sense of cost, quality and utilization patterns. In Alameda County, Community's health clinics take on full risk through managed-care contracts. The organization currently serves about 200,000 patients and manages care for about 127,000.

    The organization's eight community health centers started working with Tableau two years ago to paint a clearer picture of how patients interact with the healthcare system once they leave the health centers. For instance, Community can create reports about patients who skipped their primary-care visits and add filters such as risk scores, whether they've visited an emergency department, and whether they've been admitted as an inpatient. The care team then can follow up with those patients and connect them to a medical home.

    “We can start segmenting our patients,” said Molly Hart, Community's healthcare analytics strategist. “Which patients can we take care of with an e-visit? Who needs behavioral health?” The organization also can single out a condition such as hypertension and create dashboards for viewing data sorted by clinic, provider and patient. It can track blood-pressure readings over time and against other data points such as when patients have their next appointment.

    Her organization says use of Tableau's tools contributed to a 37% increase in the number of patients seeing a primary-care physician after a hospital admission, a 12% reduction in emergency department visits, and a 14% drop in hospital readmissions.

    “It's about the holistic picture,” said Rajib Ghosh, Community's chief data and transformation officer. “In the next two to three years, everything will be informed by data. That will drive every decision we make.”

    In August, Tableau made its first acquisition. It bought Infoactive, a Montreal-based startup, which developed a Web application that turns data into interactive infographics. The deal will allow Tableau to add capabilities in building mobile and cloud-based products.

    Beth Kutscher

    Beth Kutscher is based in Mountain View, Calif., and covers healthcare innovation and digital health. Before joining Modern Healthcare in 2012, she was a content editor and healthcare reporter for the New York-based Mergermarket Group. She previously was news and online editor for Pharmaceutical Executive and deputy news editor and healthcare reporter for PRWeek. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Cornell University.

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