[R] Inefficiency of SAS Programming

Frank E Harrell Jr f.harrell at vanderbilt.edu
Fri Feb 27 18:48:05 CET 2009

spam me wrote:
> I've actually used AHRQ's software to create Inpatient Quality Indicator
> reports.  I can confirm pretty much what we already know; it is inefficient.
> Running on about 1.8 - 2 million cases, it would take just about a whole day
> to run the entire process from start to finish.  That isn't all processing
> time and includes some time for the analyst to check results between
> substeps, but I still knew that my day was full when I was working on IQI
> reports.
> To be fair though, there are a lot of other factors (beside efficiency
> considerations) that go into AHRQ's program design.  First, there are a lot
> of changes to that software every year.  In some cases it is easier and less
> error prone to hardcode a few points in the data so that it is blatantly
> obvious what to change next year should another analyst need to do so.  Second,
> the organizations that use this software often require transparency and may
> not have high level programmers on staff.  Writing code so that it is
> accessible, editable, and interpretable by intermediate level programmers or
> analysts is a plus.  Third, given that IQI reports are often produced on a
> yearly basis, there's no real need to sacrifice clarity, etc. for efficiency
> - you're only doing this process once a year.
> There are other points that could be made, but the main idea is I don't
> think it's fair to hold this software up, out of context, as an example of
> SAS's (or even AHRQs) inefficiencies.  I agree that SAS syntax is nowhere
> near as elegant or as powerful as R from a programming standpoint, that's
> why after 7 years of using SAS I switched to R.  But comparing the two at
> that level is like a racing a Ferrari and a Bentley to see which is the
> better car.

Dear Anonymous,

Nice points.  I would just add that it would be better if 
government-sponsored projects would result in software that could be run 
without expensive licenses.


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Frank E Harrell Jr   Professor and Chair           School of Medicine
                      Department of Biostatistics   Vanderbilt University

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