Mater Health Services: A clear view of capacity

Mater Health Services (Mater) is a privately owned, not-for-profit healthcare provider based in Brisbane, Queensland. The Catholic organisation operates seven hospitals, a medical research institute, three health centres and pathology and pharmacy businesses, all of which are underpinned by community support through the Mater Foundation. Mater Health Services has more than 7,500 staff and volunteers, providing care to more than 500,000 patients each year. Famous for the success of its clinical placement program, students are placed at Mater for the entire duration of their degree, rather than rotating through many different hospitals. This approach has seen a 27% improvement in the retention rate of graduates hired by Mater. The organisation manages more than 2,600 undergraduate students, across its own nursing program, and through medical, allied health and midwifery placements from partnered universities.

Managing people and performance

Mater Health Services needed to build a database to better manage its undergraduate students on campus. “We have partnerships with many universities, and we’d often be faced with situations where out of the blue 20 students would turn up on a ward and we wouldn’t be prepared for them. Each professional group within the university was managed independently and it was difficult to keep track of everything,” says Caroline Hudson, Executive Director People and Learning. “We also didn’t have detailed records for the students or ourselves, or any performance tracking to understand what was going on between the student and the facilitators,” says Hudson. At the same time, the Federal Government wanted to increase clinical placements in hospitals as part of its strategy to address workforce shortages in the healthcare industry. Funding and grants became available for programs that could demonstrate an ability to increase capacity. This meant Mater needed to have a clear view of exactly how many students it could support through clinical placement. “At one particular point we were asked to undertake an audit of how many students we had on campus. It took weeks for us to finalise the information and we knew the moment we’d collected it in a spread sheet it would already be out of date,” she says. Hudson decided it was important to build a live, dynamic database so decision makers could see what was going on in essentially real time. “Building a tool with our previous business reporting tool was time-consuming to build the tools I needed and I wanted something that was quite responsive and potentially something we could manage on our own,” she says. Mater needed a solution that was easy to use. “Clinical staff are very quick to reject something that is difficult or time-consuming to use. These are very busy people under a lot of pressure,” she says.

Creating a tool to coordinate clinical placements

Mater worked with an external vendor to build a tool that would manage student shifts, records and rosters while they were on clinical placement. SPOT, short for Student Placement Online Tool, is a web-based solution for managing and coordinating student clinical placements. Students are able to log into the tool themselves, manage their rosters and book their own shifts. Mater is then able to manage the records and rosters. The next step was to find a reporting tool. “We had built a fantastic tool, but we needed to extract the data from it,” Hudson explains. “The last piece of the puzzle was to add the reporting functionality, and that’s where Tableau came in. I consulted with Deloitte who came back to me with a few recommendations but Tableau Desktop was the clear standout.” Today, Mater authors visualisations using Tableau Desktop. They publish their completed report using Tableau Server integrated into the web application, SPOT.

Tableau gives you insights that you otherwise wouldn’t have, so you don’t spend as much time worrying about the technology itself and how to use it. You’re focused on the outcomes that you’re getting, and what the data is telling you.

Flexibility and ease of use are the keys to adoption rates

Hudson said Tableau has given managers flexibility around how they view different data sets in a way they didn’t have before. “We’ve done some really cool work in visualising capacity and in developing the capability around management reports,” says Hudson. “The timeliness of the information is absolutely critical and Tableau has definitely been able to take this on. In a ward situation you want to be able to see very timely information in terms of your students and also look forward for capacity planning.” Mater draws the Tableau reports directly from the live databases, so the data is constantly refreshing. The reports built as standard from Tableau and integrated through SPOT generate within 30 seconds for front end users. A custom report can be designed and implemented within 2 to 3 hours. “I have a very strong view that we shouldn’t be implementing technology that requires a lot of training to be able to use it. If you think about things like iPads and iPhones, none of us spend a lot of time thinking about how we use them. We can use them intuitively!” says Hudson. In terms of the SPOT visualisations, because users are accessing the integrated Tableau dashboards on the Server via the SPOT application, Mater has not had to “train” users. They simply click filters and review the visualisations. “Tableau gives you insights that you otherwise wouldn’t have, so you don’t spend as much time worrying about the technology itself and how to use it. You’re focused on the outcomes that you’re getting, and what the data is telling you.” “With other reporting tools you can get bogged down in the functionality, but with Tableau, the information becomes the thing you focus on, which is actually what it should be about rather than using the tool,” says Hudson. Since integrating Tableau dashboards into the SPOT web application, Mater has qualified for two initial grants. “Tableau in SPOT was key to the reporting needed to these grants,” Hudson says.

Hosting for other organisations

Other health organisations are now using Mater’s SPOT as a hosted solution. “When we go out to visit government, state health departments or private organisations we demonstrate not just how the SPOT functionality works in terms of managing students, but also the capability around reporting using Tableau. People are always very impressed by what they see, and surprised at the level of sophistication available,” says Hudson. “It does exactly what I want in terms of demonstrating its value to people. To quote a potential client after seeing the tool, ‘SPOT is elegant in its simplicity’ and Tableau has been critical to its sophisticated functionality,” she says

Where to from here?

Hudson says Mater is looking at other usage models for Tableau. “We’re now building a new workforce planning tool which draws on our payroll data and uses the SPOT architecture and Tableau. I built our previous workforce planning tool using a big BI tool, but found it was too hard to manage and not responsive enough.” “We’re also encouraging some of the other teams—who do quite a lot of modelling— to start using Tableau. We expect the number of users to grow. I’m keen for there to be many users so that we can create an expert user group internally. This way I think we’ll get more and more out of it,” Hudson says.