University of Michigan Health Center: Thousands of hours into seconds

The University of Michigan Health System was tired of slow, inaccurate report generation, and the oddities associated with an archaic billing system. In this video, Jonathan Greenberg, the Director of the Fast Analytics team discusses how Tableau revolutionized their data analytics—saving UMHS over 5,000 hours within a year.

The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) has three hospitals, 40 outpatient hospitals, and more than 140 clinics.

Before Tableau, the analytics team at the UMHS managed a large, “archaic” billing system. To produce reports, they either had to do the coding themselves or pay large fees to an outside vendor, and the final output was often late or incorrect. UMHS needed a better and faster way to get the reports they needed—and they wanted control over their own system.

When UMHS implemented Tableau, the Fast Analytics team was born, tasked with assisting over 30 groups with their dashboards. With Tableau, the team automates reporting, saving the health system over 5,000 hours on four different projects within a year. When they created a charge estimate tool for customer service staff in Tableau, they sped up a four-and-a-half hour process into a four-and-a-half second query. Today, UMHS creates a “tremendous amount of output” with a small team, and they can control the quality, look, and feel of their visualizations.

Tableau: Can you tell us about your Tableau deployment at the University of Michigan Health System?
Jonathan Greenberg, Director of Fast Analytics: We've found that we can create a tremendous amount of output with a very small team. And because of that, we're able to control exactly how things look and feel, and we're able to do a really good job.

Tableau: Has UMHS saved time since implementing Tableau?
Jonathan: I know that there are at least four projects that we've completed that have saved over 5,000 hours in the last fiscal year.

Tableau: What was it like before Tableau?
Jonathan: Prior to using Tableau, we were managing a large billing system, and our reporting was archaic. And to get a report out that we needed, we either had to code it ourselves in an obscure language, or we had to pay the vendor to do it for us. It was very costly.

Half the time, even when we paid the vendor, we would find out later that delays and other problems with their internal processes would keep us waiting far past the estimate, the cost would always be higher, and it wasn't an efficient way to run the reporting section of our group.

Tableau: How did Tableau help solve that problem?

Tableau allows us to quickly automate processes that used to take thousands-literally thousands of hours, into seconds.

Jonathan: We found that Tableau allows us to quickly automate processes that used to take thousands, literally thousands of hours, into seconds.

Tableau: That’s huge! Have you seen other time savings from using Tableau?
Jonathan: The first example of saving time with Tableau was when we produced a report for one of our customers, and in the process of assembling the data for her, we realized that we eliminated 48 hours a week of her work. She was reassigned to a much higher level of work, and not only was that dashboard available for the ED department where it was needed, but with a dropdown we were able to give filtering to all the departments. And so now, 19 groups can use it instead of just one.

Another example, and this is just recent, is we created a charge estimate tool to better assist our customer service staff in providing estimates to our customers when they call in to find out how much their procedure is going to cost. With self-pay becoming what it is in our country, it's a critical component of our customer service business model.

We took a four-and-a-half-hour process that involved a number of tools and high level of expertise and turned it into four and a half second query.

Tableau: What do your users think of that?
Jonathan: So one of the comments was, "We used to have two people who could do this process, and now we have 17 because it's so simple."

Tableau: You also use Tableau in your accounting department, don’t you?
Jonathan: Tableau allowed us to automate 85 to 92 percent of our reconciliation, and then gave us the tools to quickly reconcile manually the remaining portion of that.

The time impact was huge. It's actually immeasurable because the old number was infinity. We never really were able to reconcile an entire month prior to this tool being created by my team.

Tableau: How have you managed the adoption of Tableau at UMHS?
Jonathan: While it's a small percentage of our time, we're able to get people up and running very quickly. And we did that through kind of a marketing ploy where I would pitch folks on a one-hour challenge.

Tableau: A one-hour challenge? How did that work?
Jonathan: What we'd do is tell folks we'd meet with them, we'd get their data, we'd do a quick brainstorming session, and then we'd go off and spend one hour programming a dashboard. And we'd shoot for an 80/20 on one of their problems. And we'd go back and we'd hand it to them. And they would say things like, "This solves 80 percent of my problems."

Tableau: How do you manage data security?
Jonathan: So Tableau gave us the ability to integrate with our native identity management system, which is all through Active Directory. And so now, one of the advantages of using Tableau is that we can create Active Directory groups that can be managed outside of Tableau, put that work and that management in the hands of our customers, and we get out of the data access business.

Tableau: Are there other security concerns?
Jonathan: There are some dashboards that are obviously sensitive that we continue to manage, but the vast majority of the work that we've created sits out there and is managed by our customers and doesn't impact our daily work.

Tableau: Has the investment in Tableau paid off?
Jonathan: We know from doctors and administrators that the value is there. There is no doubt that we are in an ROI far beyond what we paid for the software.

Tableau: Can you tell us a little bit about your recent change to your billing system? How did this affect your decision to use Tableau?
Jonathan: So we've moved to Epic. That was one of the opportunities that was created for us. Our billing team, our professional billing team was no longer needed because the functionality of what we did was moved into the Epic set of suites. And at the same time, I was heavily involved in that project and realized that there were so many things that we needed to do in this new world that we couldn't do anymore. Not because Epic had shortcomings, but primarily because we had been customizing this other system for 35 years.

And all those customizations were lost overnight. And we knew we needed something quick. We knew we needed something efficient, and we knew we needed to have a product ready once Epic rolled out and folks were starting to look for their data again.

Tableau: How has the Fast Analytics team worked with other teams at UMHS?
Jonathan: Even though we've remained outside the main IT organizations, at least until now, we have been able to help 30 other departments get up and running with Tableau, and have done a bit of outreach initially, and then assistance and teaching, later on, to get other departments functioning with Tableau.

Tableau: How do you demonstrate Tableau to these other groups?
Jonathan: The very first dashboard I built with Tableau was a very simple denials dashboard. It reported on healthcare denials, which healthcare insurers are denying our claims. And because it was so simple to go from a large scatter plot down to a very select list, it enabled folks to see the value of Tableau in that you don't have to look through a giant spreadsheet to find your outliers. You don't have to look through a giant spreadsheet or use complex analysis to find your trends

Tableau: What is one dashboard that stands out in your mind?
Jonathan: I think one of the most complex dashboards we ever built was a request from the executive strategy group. And in that dashboard we combined over 50 data sources into well over 60 visualizations. And it was used by the executive management team, and is still being used by the executive management team to plot their goals and see how they're doing against the key metrics that they've set for themselves.

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