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Crunching Big Data To Help In A Crisis

Experts from the Business School at the University of Auckland have been urgently analysing big data to assist the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards (DHBs) create a new temporary funding model for service providers to older people living in their homes.

Half of the 20 DHBs were operating on a fee for service model of funding which was not flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing Covid-19 situation.

Older people with complex medical conditions who are resident in their homes and receiving home care living assistance are at high risk of catching COVID-19. This is compounded for people who rely on daily assistance from care workers who are visiting multiple clients.

To minimise risk for both clients and workers there have been calls to allow greater flexibility of service delivery while still meeting clients’ needs, in a way that also preserves the capacity and capability of the service providers.

To this end a project team comprising Ministry of Health staff, senior managers from six DHBs and Professor Paul Rouse from Accounting and Finance at the University of Auckland Business School, was formed to look at an urgent alternative funding model to be established from 1 April 2020.

The project team recommended bulk funding for service providers during the Covid-19 pandemic to allow them greater flexibility to help their clients, while still preserving workers’ jobs.

Taking big data from the Ministry of Health’s previous two years meant millions of rows of data to process and sort.

Dr Paul Geertsema from Accounting and Finance at the Business School stepped in to provide his expertise to load the data into one of his own software packages, and then developed code to extract the relevant information for each DHB provider that included how much they were paid each month, for how many hours, and whether it was for household management or personal care.

Following this, data was crunched by Professor Rouse to produce the figures from April 2019 through to February 2020 showing how much each service provider contract had cost month by month, and allowing each DHB to estimate the cost of bulk funding required for the months ahead and advise the Ministry of Health.

With a background in performance and productivity measurement including within the health sector, Professor Rouse says “both he and Paul were delighted to donate their expertise and time to help during this crisis in such a practical way.”

“Without this approach, services would discontinue for older people at a time that they need it the most. We are pleased that we were able to contribute to a project of national importance and assist the health sector in managing its response to the Covid-19 outbreak.”

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