Postgresql: Detect Status Changes in a Table

This is another challenging problem I had, and it took me some hours of work to find out how to solve it. I was very tempted to use a script in a procedural language like Perl, which would make the problem easy and the solution straightforward, but there had to be a pure SQL way and here’s how I did it!

The problem

Anytime a patient has to do some kind of (non urgent) surgery, we create a new event with all patient info on the main table Event, then we log all updates to this event on the Changes table.

  • at first the patient is in it’s initial state: he/she has to provide documents, papers, previous results, insurance, allergies, etc.
  • then the preparation phase can begin: he/she has to do some tests, talk to some doctors, wait for the results;
  • when everything the preparation phase is completed, he/she’s ready and he has to wait for instructions;
  • then the hospital will give an appointment, which can be updated (different room, different time) or changed (different day);
  • finally he/she’s got the surgery and the event is considered completed:
id event_id status change_date other
1 1 Initial 2017-10-07
2 1 Initial 2017-10-08
3 1 Preparation 2017-10-09
4 1 Preparation 2017-10-10
5 1 Ready 2017-10-11
6 1 Appoinment-Given 2017-10-12
7 1 Appoinment-Given 2017-10-13
8 1 Appoinment-Given 2017-10-14
9 1 Completed 2017-10-15

There are a lot of useful informations than can be calculated here: how long does it take for a Ready event to be Completed? How long does it take the initial or the preparation phase? And what about the whole process?

The table is not normalized: it is optimized for entering data, not for querying it, that’s why the query isn’t simple.

Detect status changes

To detect status changes we can make use of the LAG window function:

LAG(status, 1, status) over (PARTITION BY event_id ORDER BY id)

that will return, for every row, the status value of the previous (1) row. If there’s no such row in the window partitioned by the event_id, it will return the current status. Then we can compare the previous value with the current value, and return 1 if a change is detected, and 0 otherwise:

with c1_detect_changes as (
  case when LAG(status, 1, status) OVER(PARTITION BY event_id ORDER BY id) = status then 0 else 1 end as n
order by
  event_id, id
select * from c1_detect_changes

and the result is:

event_id id status n
1 1 Initial 0
1 2 Initial 0
1 3 Preparation 1
1 4 Preparation 0
1 5 Ready 1
1 6 Appoinment-Given 1
1 7 Appoinment-Given 0
1 8 Appoinment-Given 0
1 9 Done 1

(it really doesn’t matter if the first row is set to 0 -no status change- or 1 -status change detected-, but what’s really important is that all other status changes are detected correctly with a 1).

Create a group for all consecutive rows with the same status

We can calculate a running sum:

sum(n) over (partition by event_id order by id) g

our query becomes:

with c2_running_sum as (
  sum(n) over (partition by event_id order by id) g
from c1_detect_changes
select * from c2_running_sum;

can you see it? Every row that shares the same consecutive status is now part of the same group:

event_id id status g
1 1 Initial 0
1 2 Initial 0
1 3 Preparation 1
1 4 Preparation 1
1 5 Ready 2
1 6 Appoinment-Given 3
1 7 Appoinment-Given 3
1 8 Appoinment-Given 3
1 9 Done 4

Get the first status change for each group

Now we can get the first (minimum) id for every group (g):

whti c3_get_first_id_per_group as (
select event_id, g, status, min(id) as min_id
from c2_running_sum
group by event_id, g, status
select * from c3_get_first_id_per_group;

and here’s the result:

event_id min_id status
1 9 Done
1 6 Appoinment-Given
1 3 Preparation
1 5 Ready
1 1 Initial

Back to Initial

We also have an additional requirement: sometimes it might happen that an event has to be sent back to the Initial status, so I want to ignore all things that happened previously, what is done is done, and only consider the last Initial status:

with c4_get_last_initial as (
  max(min_id) max_initial
group by
c5_latest_status_changes as (
select c3.event_id, min_id from c3_get_first_id_per_group as c3 inner join c4_get_last_initial as c4 on c3.event_id=c4.event_id where c3.min_id >= c4.max_initial

c4 will find the latest initial status, c5 will return all events after the last initial status.

Getting all the rows

The latest query C5 will return the event_id and the min_id of the rows to be considered:

select changes.*
from changes
where (event_id, id) in (select * from c5_latest_status_changes)

and we can pivot the results with FILTER (if we have at least PostgreSQL 9.4)

  max(change_date) filter (where status='Initial') as initial,
  max(change_date) filter (where status='Preparation') as preparation,
  max(change_date) filter (where status='Ready') as ready,
  max(change_date) filter (where status='Appointment-Given') as app_given,
  max(change_date) filter (where status='Done') as done
  changes where (event_id, id) in (select * from c5)
group by

A fiddle to play with some data is here.

Written on October 27, 2017