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Data Literacy: A Huge Opportunity for the Healthcare Industry

With Electronic Health Record adoption surging, ensuring data-driven technologies are used properly looks set to become a key priority for healthcare data leaders

It’s easy to get excited about the many ways AI and advanced analytics will shape the future of healthcare. But the industry has a way to go before these technologies begin having a significant impact on the health of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, there’s a great deal that health organizations can be doing today to deliver better quality care with data.

“Everyone’s talking about AI, but if people were just doing the basics really well, we’d see bigger changes in the accuracy of data,” argues Tim Carey, Director of Data and Performance Analytics at Bane Care Management.

Electronic Health Record (EHR) adoption has more than doubled in the US since 2008. More than 85% of health providers now use EHRs, and data literacy will become a key priority as this figure continues to rise.

Why Healthcare Organizations Should Prioritize Data Literacy

At the start of a digital transformation, companies typically focus on hiring the data professionals, developing data management frameworks and building the infrastructure they need to work well with data.

This groundwork is essential. But it means the question of how to equip staff with the skills to harness these new capabilities is often neglected. As a result, Gartner predicts that half of all organizations will lack sufficient AI and data literacy skills to drive business value by 2020.

“What I see a lot in the healthcare industry is, you have a lot of senior level leadership in analytics,” says Carey. “But your nurse manager, your nurse supervisor, even your ED physicians at the hospital, they don’t really comprehend the data and what to do with it.”

“What we have found to be really successful is sharing [data] in simple ways, so that all levels of staff can comprehend it”

– Tim Carey, Director of Data and Performance Analytics, Bane Care Management

“We’re studying the impact of all this data on people and about three out of four people are overwhelmed by what they’re being asked to do,” agrees Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy at data platform Qlik. “Our job as leaders is to ensure that the right initiatives are in place.”

The challenge for healthcare organizations is that clinical staff aren’t typically taught about analytics when they go to college or medical school. So, many enter the workforce without the basic skills they need to read, work with, analyze and argue with data.

Carey concludes: “You could have all the data under the sun, but that may not trickle down to your nurse manager or unit coordinator who’s trying to use analytics in real-time to prevent harm or improve quality of care.”

How to Empower Staff to Use Data-Driven Insights

Data literacy means different things to different stakeholder groups within an organization. A medical researcher will need a different set of skills to a care home nurse or a CEO in order to work effectively with data-driven tools. The things they each do with data will be very different.

As such, data leaders must develop bespoke data literacy programs for different stakeholder groups to account for the different ways the capabilities they develop will be used.

“Awareness at every single level is important,” says Besa Bauta, CDO at MercyFirst. “People do not understand a lot of the diagnostic categories that are included when a physician gives them a discharge summary. Even some of the caretakers do not understand a lot of that information.”

Of course, creating an entire workforce of data scientists is an impossible goal. So, it’s equally important for data leaders to consider best the ways to present the relevant data to each group.

Effective data literacy initiatives are then delivered dynamically over time. Healthcare organizations must consider how they’ll train new staff, provide refresher courses to maintain knowledge levels and upskill existing staff to handle newly developed capabilities.

“This is not a ‘one and done’ training session,” says Carey. “It’s a constant, always-evolving culture.”

“What we have found to be really successful is sharing [data] in simple ways, so that all levels of staff can comprehend it,” he recommends. “You’re breaking it down to a level that’s very simple to digest, so you can look at it for five seconds and you know exactly what’s going on.”

Once the healthcare industry has established interoperability standards so that data systems can communicate with each other, data quality will quickly become the top challenge facing the industry.

Data leaders who take steps to build strong data literacy programs now will be in the best position to lead their organizations into this new phase of the data journey.

This is an excerpt from our Healthcare & Patient Data 2020 report. Claim your copy today for even more insights from data and analytics leaders in North America.