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Healthcare Data: Students learn key data analytics skills in UIC BHIS 437 course

Healthcare professionals discuss data analytics

Approximately 30% of the world’s data volume is being generated by the healthcare industry. While healthcare data is vast, it is also incredibly impactful. It helps to shape patient outcomes, healthcare policies, and operational efficiencies in hospitals and clinics worldwide.

University of Illinois Chicago’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Chief Research Information Officer Dr. Andy Boyd is an instructor for UIC’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics program. His online course, BHIS 437: Healthcare Data, is a cornerstone for students entering the field of health informatics, offering a comprehensive introduction to the complexities and opportunities within healthcare data.

In the BHIS 437 course, Dr. Boyd guides students through the practical challenges of managing healthcare data and engages them in projects that have real-world applications. He also shares his insights on the future of health informatics, emphasizing the critical role of data in improving healthcare systems globally.

Read on to learn more about what makes BHIS 437 an essential part of the health informatics curriculum.

What are the valuable skills students can look forward to developing in your BHIS 437: Healthcare Data course?

The BHIS 437 course is an introduction to healthcare data. Healthcare data is the fundamental underpinning of health informatics. Students will learn about the immense scope of healthcare data, including thousands of variables. The course addresses several key questions:

  • What are the limitations of healthcare data?
  • How is it organized?
  • How can we effectively utilize it?

The course teaches about data variables, their sources (patients or EHRs), and handling them. Students access de-identified clinical databases to explore and perform queries.

How does BHIS 437 help students understand the practical challenges in handling healthcare data?

The course addresses several practical challenges, such as the lack of a universal standard for counting diabetic patients across hospitals. Although billing codes can identify diabetic patients, they are not perfect, and more accurate methods can reduce data volume. Students will learn about the real-world limitations of healthcare data and how to work within these constraints. The course covers storing, querying, and presenting data, helping students leverage electronic health records to enhance health system operations, even when certain data is missing or inconsistently recorded.

Are there any projects or real-world applications in your courses that students can look forward to in your BHIS 437 course?

One of our larger projects is asking students to measure a disease or healthcare phenomenon in two ways. For example, to measure the number of diabetic patients, students might use billing codes or hemoglobin A1C levels, a blood value indicating diabetes. They might also consider using the medications patients are on or combining these methods. Students choose a timeframe and conduct their queries accordingly.

Then, students must prepare a 10-minute presentation for executives. The presentation must be simplified and informative. They must apply their knowledge, calculate the prevalence, and then present it in a way that is understandable to executives, not other informatics professionals or data scientists.

Executives only give you a few minutes to explain complex concepts. In my career, I’ve been asked to explain a $50 million project in five minutes or less. You need to make a recommendation concisely, as not everyone will be trained in health informatics. There are multiple methods, so you need to summarize and recommend the best one.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Health informatics is an exciting field. I never want another global pandemic, but one benefit is that the entire population now understands the importance of clinical data. We are just at the beginning stages of health informatics and health data. Where we go, how we leverage this, and how we help improve the U.S. and worldwide healthcare systems are still unknown. We don’t have the traditional methodologies that many other fields do, but this is a chance to improve the lives and well-being of everyone.

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