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Opus 5K dials up cloud capacity to cope with Covid data surge

Any question about the extraordinary value of data was dispelled by the coronavirus pandemic; every day politicians, epidemiologists as well as the general public pored over the data for clues and guidance. Was it a doughnut day with no new cases, or was there a worrying suburban outbreak?

Opus 5K has been fully cognisant of data’s value since it set up shop in 2007 with the intent to develop online systems for healthcare administration – systems able to wrangle broad collections of critical data in order to optimise decision making and outcomes.

Opus 5K has three key solutions: MARS, an Azure-based Measurement, Analysis and Reporting System initially developed to help hospitals manage compliance with the National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) standards that define the level of care consumers can expect from health service providers; WorkMAPP which models and manages workforce requirements; and OpTML that helps clients manage the administration of a Queensland government patient travel subsidy scheme.

When the pandemic struck, MARS users quickly recognised that the reporting system they’d used initially for compliance purposes could streamline operations dramatically and provide important insights about Covid-19.

Originally developed over a decade ago, MARS was completely re-built three years ago using the very latest Microsoft technologies. The system is hosted in the Microsoft Azure data centres in Australia which were selected as they address the data sovereignty, reliability and security requirements of healthcare businesses.

Hassan Kani, Founder and Director of Opus 5K

Today, MARS is used widely by some of the largest hospital groups across Australia and New Zealand, and has also experienced a surge in demand from aged care providers as they sought a way to manage the reporting requirements forced by the pandemic.

Microsoft (MS) caught up with Hassan Kani (HK), Founder and Director of Opus 5K to learn how MARS has supported healthcare providers during a very difficult period.

MS: Tell us a little more about MARS?

HK: In essence, MARS is an auditing system. At its most basic, you build your data collection tools – for example Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) audits – collect the data, then analyse the results to find areas of low compliance. These areas are then targeted for improvement. But MARS can do much more than that, it is a proactive system that actively seeks areas of sub-optimal performance and fires out email alerts to users so that hidden signals are not missed. It reminds users of which audits needs to be completed and by when. It automatically distributes results periodically, and it prods and prompts users to complete quality improvement tasks that they are responsible for.

MS: So it’s an audit tool suited to multiple applications?

HK: MARS is used to capture a wide range of data. Some examples include bedside audits, PPE audits, auditing against the NSQHS standards, emergency department triage, workplace health and safety audits. Prior to MARS, audit data would disappear into a black hole; by the time the results were published the auditors had moved on to other areas hence the buy-in was low as they received no immediate feedback to their audit effort. With MARS, auditors plug their data in and can then immediately see how they are performing and compare their results with the rest of the organisation.

MS: Why has this audit capability been so important through the pandemic?

HK: Capturing data is important. When COVID first struck, it caught most organisations off-guard.

“There was a need for data, and lots of it, as quickly as possible to inform decisions for the immediate future. PPE areas such as donning and doffing had to be validated, infection control procedures had to be audited and screening of patients and visitors had to be implemented without delay.” 

MARS was quickly turned from being a proactive, standards-compliance auditing system to a damage-control nerve-centre. We saw PPE and infection control audits quickly gain traction, along with many other related audits. However, by far the most significant increase in activity was seen in the aged care sector where the COVID-19 declaration forms were being processed in their tens of thousands every month. We are now seeing MARS being used to screen every staff member and visitor walking into an aged care facility, and there’s no sign of that letting up any time soon.

MS: How did the system cope with the spike in demand?

HK: The number of audits shot up – we saw some clients that had been performing 3,000 audits a month surge to 50,000 audits a month. The biggest jump was seen when the COVID Declaration Forms were run through MARS by the Aged Care sector. We were easily able to accommodate the extra load by re-configuring the hosting environment

The 24×7 self-service capabilities of the Azure Portal meant we were able to quickly identify and respond to the surge with minimal impact on ongoing use of the systems.

We received some automated alerts early on letting us know that hosting tolerance limits were being approached. We immediately expanded the capacity of the site and all continued as required. We also made some changes to the code-base itself to better support a more aggressive and selective archiving routine to ensure that the application could scale up without always having to resort to putting more server-power behind it.

MS: Tell us more about MARS XChange?

HK: MARS XChange allows any MARS client to upload a copy of their data collection design so that it can be used by any other MARS client. So effectively, it’s like our community library of data collection tools. Given that some of these tools can take weeks or even months to finalise – they often involve several consultations with clinicians and frontline staff – they are an invaluable tool which can allow organisations to short-circuit an otherwise lengthy process. In particular, the XChange was pivotal in the sharing of PPE Audit tools and COVID-19 Declaration tools when the pandemic first struck.

MARS lets your clients collect data – but how do they use it?

HK: Data collected is used to identify any areas of exposure that need to be addressed. Once areas for improvement are identified, they are booked into MARS as Actions, and from there can be assigned to a user along with a review date. MARS will send reminders to that user to ensure the review is then conducted on time. The Actions module within MARS is an online collaboration tool where users come together to work on an Action together, with message broadcasting ensuring that all collaborators are kept up to date as progress is made. The Charting module brings all this information together; that is, they can see their results along a timeline with markers for when Actions were implemented, so from there can see not only that something is being done to improve performance, but also whether that Action actually improved performance. The opportunity is here to then propagate best-practice by using that evidence-based data.

MS: Could AI or machine learning also help identify best practice from the data?

HK: The opportunity could potentially exist, especially given that the COVID-19 Declaration Forms screening all staff and visitors to aged care centres are being processed through MARS. This data could be mined to then profile conditions that have been subsequently shown to increase rates of infection acquisition and/or propagation; these profiles may then be used to implement early detection processes to contain outbreaks.