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|Carol Pugh, UNH Health Services|
Data helps tell a story, and allows us to measure intangibles of work. But sometimes numbers need help to be properly understood. Tableau is a data visualization software that lets you easily connect data to create interactive, sharable dashboards. The UNH IT Enterprise Information Management (EIM) team began offering Tableau visualization services to the UNH community in spring 2016. For more information, go to https://www.unh.edu/it/enterprise-information-management/tableau-at-unh.
Carol Pugh has worked at the University of New Hampshire since January 2016 Coordinator of Data Analysis & Assessment for UNH Health Services in support of their mission to promote, maintain, and improve the health and well-being of the UNH community. Carol has used Tableau for over a year now.
UNH IT News: Signals recently sat down with Carol to discuss how she leverages the power of Tableau to assist her work.
Signals: How do you use Tableau?
Carol Pugh: I use Tableau for a series of monthly reports for our Health Services leadership team. That includes our medical director, our executive director, the business manager, folks from the Office of Health Education and Promotion. Until I came on board, there was not a one-stop shop where people could look at all this information. One of the things that I've been doing since I've been at UNH has been trying to pull together all the different data sources we have. We have an electronic health record system that has visits and other kinds of educational encounters. We have a pharmacy database. We have a ledger database, which has financial information. What I do is pull all these data sources together and then use Tableau to integrate the information and present it to the stakeholders so that they can see what's going on on a monthly basis.
Signals: Do folks outside the university use this data as well? Is it mainly people just at the university itself?
Carol Pugh: It's only people in healthcare. It's only for operational purposes. It's not for research or anything like that.
Signals: How did you learn about Tableau?
Carol Pugh: I learned about it in a previous job. We were actually trying to decide between using Tableau and a SAS product, and we actually went with the SAS product. I remember Tableau from evaluating the software. Then when I came to UNH and I was looking for a way to be able to share all this information that I had been amassing with the folks from Health Services in a way that they could use, I thought about Tableau. I checked on the website and found out that UNH was going to get a license and was going to begin to share it with the community. I think I'm one of the beta testers that started out early in the process. I've been basically using it since March of last year.
Signals: How easy would you say the learning curve is in terms of how to use it?
Carol Pugh: The learning curve is ... I guess I'm not a very good person to judge that because I'm sort of a data hound. Part of the problem with learning to use Tableau is understanding that your data have to be structured in a certain way for it to work. You just can't throw a spreadsheet at it, you have to make sure that your spreadsheet is organized in a certain way so that the information can be processed by Tableau in an efficient manner. The more I use it, the easier I find it, which I guess is true for most software. One of the things I like about it is it's got a lot of capabilities. I don't think I've examined half of what it's capable of doing or even a quarter of what it's capable of doing. Every time I look on the website or see other visualizations that people have made, I get all kinds of ideas about things that I can do with it.
Signals: How do you feel it benefits the university?
Carol Pugh: I'm not sure if I can say how it benefits the university as a whole, but I can say that those of us within Health Services, I think it has a tremendous benefit because for one thing, it allows me to provide multiple, multiple different ways of looking at the same data to meet the needs of various clients.
For example, the person in charge of finance and business within Health Services is a real numbers person. She likes to see things that look like cross-tabs or spreadsheets in Excel. I can give her that. The person who's the executive director likes pictures but he also likes numbers. I can give him that. The same with the medical director, some of the information he likes to see in a more graphic kind of format. I can give him that, but if he wants to see the numbers, he can drill down. It allows me to have maximum flexibility of what I give people but it also, because of the fact that I can leave in some filters for them to move and use as they want, it allows them to have maximum flexibility and have as much or as little information as they want to look at. It's a tremendously powerful tool in that regard.
Signals: As somebody who comes from the data realm, why do you think it's important to be able to visualize data these days?
Carol Pugh: It's important because otherwise one of the things that I've learned in my career, working with healthcare data, is that people make assumptions. Often times they're not assumptions that are based on reality or facts. If you can provide them with the reality or the facts, they often make much better and more informed decisions.
One of the nice things about data visualization is that it allows you to not only present numbers to people that like to look at numbers, it allows you to present the pictures for people that are more visual-type learners. It allows you to meet the person, the stakeholder, the client, whatever you want to call them, where they are, with the kind of information that makes sense to them. Hopefully that allows them to make better decisions with the information that's presented.
For more information, go to https://www.unh.edu/it/enterprise-information-management/tableau-at-unh