Posted: November 23, 2020

It started with a simple question. In 2018, as Grand River Hospital prepared to turn off our old systems and move to a new health information system (HIS) that would transform the way we deliver care, hospital leadership wondered, “Where are we going to store 30 years of data and what can we do with it?”

This data – from financial reports to patient records, spanning over three decades – needed to be stored securely and be readily accessible to meet medical legal obligations as well as support different potential needs such as patient care and research studies.

In the past, GRH, and other organizations have used a “data warehouse” to store information. Much like housing items in a physical warehouse, all data had to be organized in order to be accessed and used, as needed. With GRH using several systems to capture data across the hospital, and with a partially developed warehouse, this meant staff needed to spend a lot of time preparing the data to put it into the warehouse and/or looking for data that was outside the warehouse. The end result being more time getting the data ready to use and limitations in our analytics and reporting abilities.

Img 2020 Slt Young Lee
Young Lee is the vice president of planning, transformation, and innovation at GRH

“When GRH decided to implement a new HIS, we had a unique opportunity to start to modernize how we manage and organize our data and work towards developing “one source of truth” for our data, past and present,” says Young Lee, vice president of planning, transformation, and innovation at GRH. “This included determining where our older ‘legacy’ data would be stored and how we could make better use of it.”

The solution was a data lake – a centralized repository that allows organizations to store structured and unstructured data at any scale. This means data from a variety of systems and sources can be stored as-is, without first having to be changed, a benefit for GRH which has data from several different systems. A data lake also provides a more flexible foundation for the potential to broaden abilities to perform different types of analytics—from dashboards to real-time and predictive analytics – as well as prepare to use data for advanced purposes such as artificial intelligence.

This week, staff from GRH’s Digital Services team will present our journey as the first hospital in Canada to move our data to a data lake hosted by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, and why this move has the potential to change the way Canadian health care organizations think of and use data.

“For us, the decision to partner with Amazon Web Services was easy,” says Young. “AWS offered a safe and secure platform to store our corporate and clinical data in a way that we could readily access and use this information to our advantage.”

Imran Hussain is the integrated manager of information technology and infrastructure at GRH. “Moving 30 years of data from different sources – including paper – was a potential roadblock,” he says. “We could have ‘dumped’ all this data into one solution and been done, only accessing it when we needed it. But we wanted to do more; we wanted to retrieve the information and use it in a meaningful way.”

“Since moving data to the cloud, health information management staff can now readily access data from our legacy systems from a single source, instead of searching through various sources as they would have done in the past,” says Kim Hill, director of data governance and analytics at GRH. “Although we are in the early days of use for analytics purposes, working with AWS we have created a modern foundation to increase our capabilities, capacity, and productivity in terms of leading to greater insights and better decision making across the organization over time.”

As the first Canadian hospital to migrate data to the cloud, and in the innovative spirit of Waterloo Region, GRH has been working with other Canadian health care organizations to help guide their own journeys to a data cloud adoption, and sharing our insights along the way.

“Data is more than just numbers or information,” says Young. “Data is a strategic asset. With the AWS solution, we can see what data we have and use it to help us be strategic about the decisions we make and delivering care. When we look at the data from all angles, we can use it to make better decisions, along with our health system partners, for the community we serve. We still have work to do to build on our new foundation, but we are now in a much better position to capitalize on our data as we go forward as an organization. ”