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Four essential players for your healthcare data analytics team


Putting together the right team of data specialists is an important part of the future growth of a healthcare organization. Do you have the right team in place?

Putting together the right team of data specialists is an important part of the future growth of a healthcare organization. Healthcare data is growing at 48% per year since 2013, according to a report by EMC Digital Universe. By the year 2020, healthcare data will be about 2,314 exabytes (one exabyte equates to about 1 billion gigabytes).

Experts says analyzing all that data can’t be an additional responsibility of the IT department. “Healthcare organizations will need to recognize that the skills required for data analytics are not merely an extension of existing personnel but will require additional training or acquisition of staff,” says John Zaleski, chief analytics officer at Bernoulli, which develops medical device integration and clinical surveillance solutions for hospitals and health systems. “Data are becoming more and more the part of day-to-day clinical care. As such, the need for those individuals trained in the acquisition, cleaning, interpretation, and identification of value will be required.”

When establishing a data analytics team, here are some of the most important players with job descriptions and skills required (compiled based on information provided by the experts we interviewed and information we compiled from job posting websites and openings posted by various healthcare organizations):

Title: Chief analytics officer (CAO)

Job description: Senior manager who heads data analysis. Education background in applied science, physics, engineering or engineering mathematics, or applied mathematics and statistics. Must also have hands-on experience in domain of application and experience in participating and leading a clinical trial involving data reduction and analysis. Also, experience in tools associated with the domain for data reduction, programming, simulation modeling and the various languages, including of Python, R, Matlab, Excel and VBA. Managerial experience in the oversight of scientists, applied mathematicians, or researchers including medical doctors and researchers with PhDs.

Why this position matters: Unlike a chief information manager (CIO), the CAO’s sole responsibility is leading a team that’s goal is to make sense of all types of data that inhabits an organization, says Zaleski. This includes claims and financial data, clinical data, and patient-generated data from wearables and remote monitoring devices. He says the CAO should be able to dissect problems into their components and guide team members when solving data problems.

“The role is distinct from the CIO’s office as the focus is not on the selection and implementation of software and technology but, rather, on the assessment of clinical data and the impact of these data in terms of influencing the clinical work flow, patient safety, and quality of healthcare within the enterprise,” says Zaleski.

Having this independent analytics leader is paramount as data becomes a standard part of clinical care and complex business decisions for healthcare organizations, Zaleski says.

“As healthcare organizations begin relying more on data, the analytics will play a substantial role in clinical patient management, identification and support for best practices in guidelines, and supporting the end-user in making better decisions on patients,” he says.

Next: Data scientist



Title: Data scientist

Job description: Experience collecting various data and making it usable. Also experience in “soft skills” such as working with a team and various levels or management and staff. “It is crucial for our data scientists to have strong problem-solving skills, a keen sense of process analysis to translate business problems to data problems, a collaborative mindset, and the ability to bring data to life through storytelling,” says Ang Sun, chief artificial intelligence officer at Cambia Health Solutions, a nonprofit total health solutions company, based in Portland, Oregon.

Expertise in data visualization and preparation, pattern recognition, and text analytics. May have experience as a data statistician or programmer. Many have a master’s degree or doctor of philosophy degree in mathematics and statistics, computer science or engineering.

Why this position matters: Being able to leverage technology and data to make it actionable across the organization is key to improving and simplifying patient experience and outcomes, Sun says. “From the proactive identification of individuals for specific clinical interventions, to optimizing the consumer experience, to saving our consumers money by detecting and stopping incorrect or anomalous claims, data scientists strive to improve healthcare for all,” Sun says. “The team collaborates with a wide range of business partners to operationalize data-driven personalization.”

Next: Business intelligence manager



Title: Business intelligence manager

Job description: Collaborates with business and data teams to conceptualize, design, and deliver actionable insights. Must have experience in the architecture and design of processes that answer data questions for both business and clinical teams, including reports, dashboards, and other reporting tools. Becomes a subject matter expert on best practices that blend data and business, and creates methodologies and standards used for training throughout the organization. Education requirements include a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, health information management, or mathematics.

Why this position matters: As the industry continues to shift to value-based care, organizations must be able to combine data and create scenarios to predict the best outcomes. Business intelligence managers work with multiple stakeholders in the organization to summarize data and experiences, which can make decision making easier. A 2014 report by Gartner suggests that the top need for healthcare informatics is to create a business manager role who can create and manage a clinical data warehouse as a foundation for complex population health and business strategies.

“(This role) recognizes the importance of persistent marketing and communication about information management and analytics architecture use cases, as well as about current value achieved, as a primary focal point,” the report’s authors state. “Use all the education and influence you can muster with top executives to make the case for a strong top-executive commitment to high-value use, strong information governance and data quality.”

Next: Nursing informatics specialist



Title: Nursing informatics specialist/nurse analyst

Job description: Oversees the integration of data, and sharing of information to support decision-making by patients and their providers through the perspective of nursing. Makes the documentation of electronic data, voice-enabled notes, and mobile or patient-generated data easy to analyze and interpret for other clinicians. Education background includes a bachelor’s degree in nursing with experience with EHRs, also a master’s degree in health informatics, healthcare management or quality management.

Why this position matters: Keeping the needs of patients in the forefront as big data continues to increase makes nurse analysts important team members, says Asha Gaines, nurse analyst and population health coordinator for value-based clinical care at Northside Hospital healthcare system in Atlanta.

“I use the term nurse analyst because I use my nursing lens to note trends and patterns in data,” Gaines says, who says her team of nurses collaborates with payer-partners and clinicians to coordinate care. “The system solutions are embedded in the data. Healthcare is sitting on goldmines of unused data. Healthcare organizations need folks who understand how to extract information out of data to optimize outcomes.”

Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.

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