All healthcare organizations are incentivized to provide highly targeted care that achieves better patient outcomes and reduces clinical and administrative costs. One way they can achieve this goal is through the use of data. Thanks to advanced data and analytics tools, today’s healthcare organizations can collect, interpret, and extrapolate patient data points, helping providers make more informed diagnoses and allowing administrators to more effectively allocate resources.
To use data advantageously, healthcare organizations must understand the different types of data that are available. They also need analysts and other professionals who have the skills necessary for rigorous data collection and evaluation.
One way to launch a career in this field and add real value to a healthcare organization is to pursue a Master of Science in Health Informatics.
The Importance of Data in Healthcare
In a healthcare setting, data refers to information gleaned from individual patients, as well as trend lines identified in specific populations and healthcare settings. Data is important to health organizations because it helps them answer big questions about patient outcomes: What happened? Why did it happen? What will happen, and how can we impact what will happen?
Patient data may encompass socioeconomic, genetic, biomedical and behavioral factors. Population health numbers may indicate different risk levels or wellness proclivities in certain communities or demographics. And a health organization’s internal data may reveal examples of how resources and staffing are allocated, as well as how this allocation corresponds with patient outcomes.
As healthcare data’s perceived importance grows, so does its availability. According to Health IT Analytics, Seagate Technology researchers project healthcare data will see a compound annual growth rate of 36% between 2018 and 2025. (For comparison’s sake, the projected compound annual growth rate of data in media and entertainment is 25%.) As a result, healthcare organizations will see expanded opportunities to leverage data to improve their delivery of care, assuming they have informatics professionals who can properly analyze different types of data.
Types of Data in Health Informatics
Healthcare data collection and appraisal fall into a number of different categories. The following types of data are among the most crucial to health informatics:
As they provide clinical care, health organizations can collect data about which of their services are being used and how these services are being paid for. Often, this data is collected on an individual patient level, based on claims, patient encounters or enrollment in wellness programs. It might include types of service and length of stay, for example. Administrative data can help health organizations better understand the specific needs of the populations they serve and properly distribute resources.
Electronic Health Records
Electronic health records (EHRs) contain an individual’s entire clinical history, including past diagnoses, treatments and outcomes. These records are created and kept current through the input of doctors, nurses and administrators. Clinicians can use EHRs to more acutely treat individual patients, while different specialists and providers may also use them to share information, ensuring they each have a comprehensive picture of a patient’s needs.
Some health organizations, such as nursing homes, are required to report standardized clinical data. This type of data may be used by Medicare or by regulatory agencies to assess needs and make adjustments to resource allocation. It can also enable a facility-specific performance assessment.
Insurance Claims Data
Health organizations can also look at information and trends in insurance claims data, which provide a window into the kinds of services their patients are seeking. This information can be used in a number of ways, including the identification of overused or expensive treatments that could be phased out for something more efficient.
Healthcare organizations can be proactive in surveying their patients, asking them about areas of their care experience that were satisfactory or unsatisfactory. This information may be more qualitative than quantitative, but it can still provide clinicians and administrators with opportunities for process improvement.
Health organizations have more access than ever before to patient-generated data, such as from mobile health apps. This is crucial for home health and for monitoring chronic conditions. Social Determinants of Health (SDoh) and genomic data can also provide a fuller picture of the patient’s status.
Gaining Data Skills With an Advanced Degree
To make use of these different types of data, health organizations need analysts who have expertise in health informatics. In particular, these professionals require a few key skills:
- Critical Thinking. Critical thinking skills help analysts arrive at the correct conclusion and make reasonable inferences from data.
- Problem-Solving. Advanced problem-solving skills are necessary to ensure data is leveraged into practical solutions.
- Data Analysis and Management. The ability to manage and analyze data is crucial for anyone in the field of health informatics.
- Communication. The ability to communicate data in a clear, actionable way is also essential.
- Presentations and reporting. Data scientists must be able to create reports and design data visualizations that outline their essential findings.
- Projecting and forecasting. By looking at their available data sources, data analysts should be able to provide the organization with some sense of future trends or possible outcomes.
- Technical skills. It’s also important for analysts to have familiarity with data infrastructures, statistical analysis tools, and programming fundamentals, such as SQL, Python, R, JSON, and XML.
To hone the skills for success in this position — and to add real value to a healthcare organization — analysts can complete an online Master of Science in Health Informatics degree with a Health Data Science concentration. In a formal degree program, students will gain familiarity with different types of data and with different information systems that can be used to manage and access this data. They will also develop key concepts concerning the use of data to improve health organizations. These are the skills that can help informatics professionals become more valuable to their organizations and more competitive in the job market.
Getting Started in Health Informatics
Learn more about the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics, including its Health Data Science concentration. This course of study will provide you with the skills necessary for professional success in health informatics, including a curriculum that emphasizes the collection, management and analysis of different types of data. Discover more about this program.
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