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Improving decision-making to save lives faster

<1 year

To modernize data infrastructure


Decrease in time to insight


More productive with Databricks Assistant

PLATFORM USE CASE: Data Intelligence Platform,Unity Catalog
CLOUD: Azure

“The adoption of Databricks has ensured that we can future-proof our data capabilities. It has transformed and modernized the way we work, and that has a direct impact on the quality of care delivered to our community.”

— Jake Hammer, Chief Data Officer, Powys Teaching Health Board (PTHB)

The inability to access complete and high-quality data can have a direct impact on a healthcare system’s ability to deliver optimal patient outcomes. Powys Teaching Health Board (PTHB), serving the largest county in Wales, is responsible for planning and providing national health services for approximately a quarter of the country. However, roughly 50% of the data they need to help inform patient-centric decisions doesn’t occur within Powys and is provided by neighboring organizations in varying formats, slowing their ability to connect data with the quality of patient care. Converting all this data — from patient activity (e.g., appointments) and workforce data (e.g., schedules) — to actionable insights is difficult when it comes in from so many disparate sources. The PTHB needed to break down these silos and make it easier for nontechnical teams to access the data. With the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform, PTHB now has a unified view of all their various data streams, empowering healthcare systems to make better decisions that enhance patient care.

Silos and system strain hinder data-driven insights

The demand for PTHB’s services has increased significantly over the years as they’ve dealt with evolving healthcare needs and population growth. As new patients enter the national healthcare system, so does the rise in data captured about the patient, hospital operations and more. With this rapid influx of data coming from various hospitals and healthcare systems around the country, PTHB’s legacy system began to reach its performance and scalability limits, quickly developing data access and ingestion bottlenecks that not only wasted time, but directly impacted patient care. And as the diversity of data rose, their legacy system buckled under the load.

“Our data sat in so many places that it caused major frustrations. Our on-premises SQL warehouse couldn’t cope with the scale of our growing data estate,” explained Jake Hammer, Chief Data Officer at PTHB. “We needed to move away from manually copying data between places. Finding a platform that would allow us to take advantage of the cloud and was flexible enough to safeguard our data within a single view for all to easily access was critical.”

How could PTHB employees make data-driven decisions if the data was hard to find and difficult to understand? Hammer realized that they needed to first modernize their data infrastructure in the cloud and migrate to a platform capable of unifying their data and making it readily available for downstream analytics use cases: from optimizing staff schedules to providing actionable insights for clinicians so they can provide timely and targeted care. Hammer’s team estimated that it would take five to 10 years to modernize their tech stack in this way if they were to follow their own processes and tech stack. But they needed a solution now. Enter Databricks.

Improving data democratization with a unified platform

PTHB chose the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform to house all new incoming data, from any source. This includes the data for a large number of low-code apps (e.g., Power Apps) so that Hammer’s team can now work with data that was historically kept on paper — making it significantly easier for people to access and analyze the data at scale.

Data governance is also critical, but creating standard processes was difficult before transitioning to Databricks as their core platform. With Unity Catalog, PTHB has a model where all of their security and governance is done only once at the Databricks layer. “The level of auditing in Databricks gives us a high level of assurance. We need to provide different levels of access to many different individuals and systems,” added Hammer. “Having a tool that enables us to confidently manage this complex security gives both ourselves and our stakeholders assurance. We can more easily and securely share data with partners.”

Deriving actionable insights on data through numerous Power BI dashboards with ease is something PTHB could not do before. “Now HR has the data they need to improve operational efficiency while protecting the bottom line,” said Hammer. “They can self-serve any necessary data, and they can see where there are gaps in rosters or inefficiencies in on-the-ground processes. Being able to access the right data at the right time means they can be smarter with rostering, resource management and scheduling.”

Federated lakehouse improves team efficiency and real-time data enhances patient care

With the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform, PTHB has taken their first step toward modernization by moving to the cloud in less than a year — a much quicker timeline than their 10-year estimate — and providing a federated lakehouse to unify all their data. Through the lakehouse, they are able to seamlessly connect to their on-premises SQL warehouse and remote BigQuery environment at NHS Wales to create a single view of their data estate. “With the Databricks Platform, and by leveraging features such as Lakehouse Federation to integrate remote data, PTHB data practitioners now work from a single source of truth to improve decision-making and patient outcomes,” explained Hammer.

From an operational standpoint, the impact of a modern platform has been significant, with efficiencies skyrocketing to an estimated 40% time savings in building data pipelines for analytics. They also estimate spending 65% less time answering questions from business data users with the help of Databricks Assistant. This AI-powered tool accelerated training for PTHB, helping traditional SQL staff embrace new programming languages and empowering them to be more productive without overreliance on the data engineering team.

A modern stack and newfound efficiencies throughout the data workflow has fueled Hammer’s ability to expand into more advanced use cases. “Data science was an area we simply hadn’t thought about,” explained Hammer. “Now we have the means to explore predictive use cases like forecasting feature utilization.”

Most importantly, PTHB has a solution that’s future-proof and can tackle any data challenge, which is critical given how they are seeing a rapidly growing environment of APIs, adoption of open standards and new sources of real-time data. “I can trust our platform is future-proof, and I’m probably the only health board to be able to say that in Wales at the moment,” said Hammer. “Just like with the data science world, the prediction world was something we never thought was possible. But now we have the technology to do anything we put our minds and data to.”