Analytics help Toronto-area hospital manage COVID-19 impacts

By | 2 minute read | March 30, 2021

doctor at laptop

In the early spring of 2020, when it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to put a strain on healthcare systems, North York General Hospital began preparing for an influx of patients. We didn’t know how it would play out here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), or how many inpatients we would have. But our immediate comparison was with New York City, where the healthcare system was already overwhelmed.

We decided to track and monitor every aspect of capacity to make sure that we would be fully prepared after what we saw unfolding in the US and Europe.

Launching a COVID-19 dashboard in just two weeks

Creating a COVID-19 tracking dashboard using our IBM Cognos Analytics solution took less than two weeks, thanks to the business intelligence infrastructure that we had put in place over the past couple of years.

Once we set up the reporting infrastructure, the biggest challenge was determining what metrics to track, and how they had an impact on other areas of the hospital. For example, when there is a higher level of community transmission, it has a big impact on resources like the emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU), and our personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.

Using Cognos, we’re able to generate reports that provide snapshots throughout the day to understand who our COVID-19 patients are, and where they are in the hospital system. We keep an eye on ED occupancy and patient flow, among other indicators. And with IBM SPSS Modeler software, we’re able to run predictive analytics that help forecast the impact of growing COVID-19 numbers.

Monitoring resources, managing patient flow

The COVID-19 dashboard is focused on hourly stats. It was a real win for us to build that capability to get real-time metrics on positive patients.

We also created an overall service recovery dashboard that can monitor even more metrics to help us plan ahead as the pandemic numbers change. We’re using newer capabilities in the Cognos software such as key performance indicator (KPI) visualizations. The service recovery dashboard provides an overall command center view of everything happening in the hospital.

For example, when we resumed surgeries, we had to look at the backlog and how that would affect hospital bed capacity. We’re looking at increasing surgeries and outpatient flow, while measuring the impact of these and COVID-19 patients on overall hospital resources. This way, if an outbreak is reported, we might have to reduce our surgeries, but the dashboard can help us determine how to go about doing that without shutting down surgeries entirely.

Preparing for the future with predictive analytics

Today, almost our entire hospital staff can access both the COVID-19 and service recovery dashboards to see the current metrics. Everyone is up to date in terms of the latest stats on where the COVID-19 patients are, and about our resource utilization across hospital units.

The staff is well informed, and the senior leadership has additional data points to better manage the crisis. We’re trying to keep at least a 10% buffer layer for future outbreaks, and these models are helping ensure that the impact of COVID-19 patients doesn’t overwhelm us.

This is a challenge that almost all hospitals are facing, and with the Cognos Analytics dashboards and SPSS predictive analytics tools, we can plan ahead, before we hit full capacity.