Leveraging Big Data to make better healthcare decisions

The following is a guest post from Dr. Mark Johannsson, academic dean of the College of Health Professions at University of Phoenix.

Over the past decade, the healthcare industry has made tremendous strides in the collection of health-related data and in the implementation of technology to analyze and create actionable items from it. However, the actual power of health-related “Big Data” is not just the data that is collected, but how that data is applied and what that data will mean in terms of its impact on efficiency and productivity of our healthcare system.

Today, a growing skill gap exists within the healthcare data analytics sector. There is an increasing need for health professionals who have trained themselves to keep pace with the evolving skillsets that are needed to interpret and analyze Big Data and create purposeful health care systems for patients and communities both in the present and in the future. Keeping that in mind, it is imperative that health professionals make themselves familiar with what Big Data is, how it will impact the patient experience today and how it will shape interactions and outcomes for generations to come. Appropriate utilization of meaningful data, along with more robust training in its collection, analytics and its application, will ensure that tomorrow’s health professionals will be better prepared to improve healthcare systems, create more meaningful policy, improve patient outcomes and educate our communities about the overall future of health and disease.

Although we have touted the many benefits of health-related big data, we must also acknowledge that it comes with its own set of requirements and limitations. In my experience, one of the larger requirements is directed to healthcare professionals who will need to adjust to the pace at which healthcare data is evolving and being shared, and be mindful that as a result of this cadence, data will only be relevant as long as it is utilized before its relevance expires. I believe visibility into the patient experience will need to be simplified, and health professionals will need to become comfortable in both the navigation of the systems and leveraging of the knowledge.

Access to larger data sets by health professionals has become a business requirement, but more important will be their ability to know how to analyze it. Meaningful use of big data analytics and informatics skills will be among the most sought-after competencies for health information management (HIM) professionals within the next few years, predicts a survey published in the Journal of AHIMA. However, many professionals entering or already in their careers may not recognize this critical need. While HIM professionals have rated data analytics and related competencies as an area that will be increasingly important in the future, HIM professionals did not report that they personally anticipated that they will spend a large percentage of their time on data analytics in the future. In other words, HIM professionals, overall, do not perceive themselves stepping into data analytics roles.

To address this gap between their knowledge and personal relevance for HIM professionals, we will need to provide industry relevant training on how to remain current in abilities to interpret big data and gain a better understanding of how step into these analytical roles. Through continuing education, health professionals can acquire the data analytics and interpretation skills necessary to understand and apply Big Data to in healthcare settings. They can gain the knowledge needed to share insights on patient and system outcomes and the ability to communicate them with healthcare professionals across hospitals and health systems.

For Big Data to be successful, organizations must also adopt and support the tools and resources that allow professionals to gain more value from the data and answer national initiatives.

One of the more meaningful applications of Big Data is to tell the larger story about both the real time and evolving trends in America’s health status. Health professionals will need to be able to make an informed decision about their role in the use and future of big data, and will need to be cognizant of their currency of skillset as the industry moves deeper into a data-driven landscape. Big Data should be a national resource for all Americans, but we need our health professionals to be equipped with the analytics skills necessary to translate the data into meaningful actions for healthcare and leverage Big Data in the most effective way possible.

Filed Under: Health IT
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