Health sciences center visualizes cancer research data

It’s been extremely beneficial to be able to explore our data in sophisticated ways without being sophisticated programmers.

The Epidemiology Department at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center- School of Public Health collaborates with hospitals and other providers around the state to meet the requirements of a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant funds the school’s Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program (LBCHP) to fulfill its mission to ensure that uninsured and underinsured Louisiana women have access to and receive high-quality screening and diagnostic services for the early detection of cancer.

Jennifer Hayden, IT analyst at LBCHP, said, “I needed a visualization tool that would help us provide feedback to our providers. We use Tableau to generate progress reports for our providers to show them how they’re performing and how they’re contributing to the program’s statewide success.”

Identifying Outliers for Quality Control

In addition to giving feedback to providers, LBCHP has found Tableau useful for quality control by looking for outliers in their data. “If a provider is having a problem in a given indicator, we’ve created visualizations to understand it: why is it happening and how is it happening? We’ll look at how many individuals are falling outside of the indicator. For example, in our breast rescreening project we looked at who comes back for rescreening. Who are the women who are extending their time longer than the recommended 18 months for rescreening mammograms? We dig deep into patient info for quality control, finding trends, and working on program evaluation.”

“After Hurricane Rita, we lost a lot of physicians from southeastern Louisiana. One of the hospitals we work with lost their radiologist. They had to contract out with a radiology group, remotely. The radiology group waited until the very last minute to read the mammogram which caused our data to become untimely. Using Tableau, we discovered that we had a trend of screenings taking much longer, affecting our timeliness. We approached that hospital and requested that they renegotiate their contract with the radiology group. We always try to take action based on the results,” said Jennifer.

Better Analysis Allows Expansion and Exploration

Using Tableau has enabled LBCHP to improve program performance and apply for funding for other programs. The organization is applying for another grant to screen for colorectal cancer. “In a pilot study, we found patients with precancerous indications--Tableau helped us visualize the data,” said Hayden. “When you’re talking to grantors, you need to show results and you need to show them in an easy-to-understand, visually enticing way.”

LBCHP also uses the software to allow people throughout their organization find answers. “We use the software to explore. For people who don’t have the SQL skills and for groups that don’t have huge resources to spend on a large, specialized IT staff, it’s been extremely beneficial to be able to explore our data in sophisticated ways without being sophisticated programmers. You can get started with it very quickly, very easily, and create visualizations for the data we are familiar, but need to better understand.”

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