After insightful data pandemic stories from Tableau, Privacera, and Promethium, we’re happy to bring you a story from Richard Jarvis, Chief Analytics Officer at EMIS, a Starburst customer. The year 2020 will be etched in history as rather an unusual one: One where the outbreak of a global pandemic wreaked havoc but also taught us important lessons. Behavioral patterns changed forever, data science models were put to test, and the need for fast data access and “analytics anywhere” emerged as a key growth driver. Companies with strong digital foundations thrived while others were forced to adapt. According to a report by McKinsey, digital transformation “vaulted five years forward.” If you have a compelling data pandemic story to tell and would like to get featured on Starburst Blog, please write to us at content@starburst.io.

—Your friends at Starburst



EMIS, a supplier of electronic patient record systems and software used in healthcare in the United Kingdom, covers a wide variety of different healthcare settings, all of which were touched by the pandemic in some way. The healthcare industry had to shift to operating remotely in a very short amount of time while our data teams were still adapting to the rapid influx of information coming in, most of which was very sensitive. The ultimate goal was to provide the best care to our patients; keeping them safe during unprecedented times, all while respecting their privacy.

EMIS-X Analytics

At EMIS, we provide the software to enable our customers to provide the best care based on their interpretations of the data we’re helping them access. 

EMIS-X Analytics is a cloud-based analytics suite built on the idea that data needs a broader and more flexible infrastructure that is accessible to multiple collaborators. That infrastructure needs to be capable of surfacing information quickly and at scale, combining open source technologies, application program interfaces, and cloud storage architecture.

Recently, I brought Mark Sellman, Chief Information Officer at Frimley Health and Care Integrated Care System and a customer of EMIS to Datanova, Starburst’s signature event, to share how they used our platform to gain insights during the start of the pandemic. One of the things his organization struggled with as a national health service was that all their data sat in silos, making it highly challenging to access with anything that could be deemed modern. Mark and his team came to EMIS to modernize their architecture and solved that very problem with our new platform, EMIS-X Analytics.

Common COVID-19 Symptoms: A Visualization

The EMIS-X platform includes a range of data exploration and visualisation tools. As an example, EMIS were able to produce an online visualization delineating the most common reported symptoms of COVID-19 that updated daily, as new self-reported patient data streamed into its cloud data lake from a patient facing application. Researchers could look and see at any given point in time what the most common symptoms were. To get this kind of information in the past would have involved several weeks of copying and analyzing data. With EMIS-X Analytics, powered by Starburst Enterprise, researchers got the information in almost real-time.

With EMIS-X, the data team at Frimley was able to liberate their siloed data and use it to efficiently respond to their patient’s needs and track COVID-19 trends as they emerged. They were able to get a sense of what type of people were catching it, what was happening with transmission and what the severity of the situation was for people who were testing positive so that they could support public health initiatives and get accurate and effective messaging to the public. In addition to that, EMIS-X created an opportunity for Frimley Health, among many other organizations, to dive into detail on their patients that they never been able to before. It transformed their understanding of not only the provision of healthcare, but also the needs of the population. 

Safety and Security

At the start of the pandemic, our research team ran a survey for people to input their symptoms and how they felt on a day by day basis. The patients were never paid for that information, they didn’t benefit in any way from it, but they were willing to give it to us because it was a mindset of helping a cause. They wanted to serve the healthcare system because these times were so unprecedented, and that was very interesting to us.

That being said, their information was treated sensitively, and we had the right systems in place to make sure of that. At EMIS, we make sure that people who have access to data are the only people who have access. We also use anonymization, but anonymization is much more

complicated than just replacing email addresses with random strings of text. For example, when you have to look at very low numbers, very rare diseases might only have several cases in the whole country, it doesn’t matter that you’ve anonymized the names, you’ll be able to de­anonymize that by using other data sources. In situations like this, we lean on ethics and data governance policies, but it’s important to consider all risks ahead of sharing data.

The Path Forward

At this stage of the pandemic, it may seem like there’s still a long road ahead of us. But I believe the technologies we’re building, and the plethora of digital transformation occurring, is truly the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve been able to accomplish so much so quickly, and meet people’s needs in ways that couldn’t be fathomed before, and we must keep moving forward.

There is no way to go back to doing everything like we’ve always done. We’ve seen the benefits of accelerating our data strategies and broadening our reach. We can and will continue to empower our patients to look after themselves. Technology will take us farther if we let it, and we put in the work. 

For over 30 years, we’ve been working to ensure that healthcare professionals across the NHS have all the information they need by providing them with instant access to electronic patient records, and these unprecedented times only pushed us further towards that initiative. Today, our technology is used by over 10,000 different organisations. In fact, our technology is the number one choice in primary care and community pharmacies, and is the number two choice in hospices, specialist services, and secondary and community care. We can only imagine how much more we can accelerate during this digital revolution.

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