If you wanted to find out how bad weather was affecting instances of respiratory disease in your area, how would you go about answering that question? Let’s make the problem a little easier and say you work at an NHS foundation trust and have access to reams of raw clinical data. How would you get started?

Finding an answer to even a relatively simple data-based question used to be the work of specialists. It was time-consuming and difficult – not to mention expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. Just ask Professor Philip Dean.

Professor Dean is the head of the Pharmacy and Quality Control Laboratory Services Department at North Tees and Hartlepool National Health Services Foundation Trust. And he can now tell you not only how the weather is affecting respiratory disease admissions – he can turn the answer into a chart and show you. He doesn’t even need to be at his desk to do it.

North Tees and Hartlepool has a long-standing interest in turning data into insights. It was working with Ascribe – a Microsoft partner with gold competencies in business intelligence – when Ascribe asked the trust if it would like to try out a new, self-service toolset for analysing Ascribe data: Microsoft Power BI for Office 365.

Power BI includes four key tools:

  • Power Query makes it easy to find and access data.
  • Power Pivot creates data models for analysis.
  • Power View produces highly visual reports.
  • Power Map combines data with 3-D geospatial maps.

The new tool opened up all kinds of doors for Dean and his colleagues. Power BI made it easy to analyse third-party information – like weather data – alongside clinical data from local GPs. That meant Dean could easily examine how treatments varied by location, spot best practices and adapt accordingly. Ascribe even deployed a Windows 8 application for Power BI, so Dean could create and share analysis on the move from his Surface Pro.

“With Microsoft Power BI and Ascribe, we could understand which bacteria are resistant to which antibiotics in various areas at various times,” said Dean. “We could understand how socio-economic status affects the health of, and medicines used by, our population. There’s virtually nothing we can’t understand better with this technology.”

Perhaps more importantly, Power BI doesn’t just find the answer to complex data questions; it makes the answer easy to understand. Rather than pour over a dry table of figures, users can produce charts, graphs and maps that clearly illustrate patterns in huge data sets. And because the solution is cloud-based, it’s also efficient. The solution scales so that the trust only pays for what it needs.

Want to learn more about the power of business intelligence for health organisations? Check out the full North Tees and Hartlepool story and visit Ascribe’s website to hear how they’re accelerating business intelligence