What Is Healthcare Data Analytics?
Healthcare analytics may sound complicated and daunting, and while it’s true that data has dramatically changed the healthcare industry in recent years, the fundamentals remain the same. Healthcare professionals and the companies that serve the sector are devoted to providing effective, affordable care and improving patient outcomes.
The challenge of data analytics in healthcare is to use data to improve the system as a whole, even if that means improving it incrementally, organization by organization.
Historically, the healthcare sector has been slower than others to embrace data. One 2017 study revealed that 56 percent of healthcare organizations didn’t have a comprehensive, enterprise-wide data governance plan in place. But that has changed in recent years; the same study revealed that about half of organizations planned to put a data framework in place within the next 12 months.1
Life sciences companies, hospitals and private practices are now leveraging data to become more efficient, identify trends and prepare for the future.2 There is a growing need for data analytics professionals in the healthcare sector, and the discipline is poised to revolutionize the way we deliver care.
Understanding Healthcare Data Analytics
Healthcare data analytics is a data analysis process that enables healthcare professionals to find opportunities to improve the healthcare system, generate better patient outcomes and reduce costs.
Each time a patient is entered into a hospital’s system and provided care, they generate data. This data can then be compiled and analyzed by data analysts to identify trends and opportunities for improvement. On the micro-level, a hospital could collect data on its patients and then analyze trends in that data to make their services more efficient.
On a macro-level, health organizations can compile large data sets to identify broader healthcare system trends. This has already helped experts identify which parts of the country are experiencing lapses in care, which populations are the most vulnerable to illnesses, which areas of the country experience the longest life expectancy and other trends.3
Big Data is Now Critical to Patient Outcomes
Of course, nothing has revealed the importance of data analytics in healthcare more than the ongoing pandemic. Since the pandemic hit the U.S., healthcare data analysts have been pouring over data sets to learn how the virus spreads and why it affects some people more than others. They’ve also used big data to understand which areas are more vulnerable and which approaches have been successful in combating the virus.
But big data has enormous potential to transform every aspect of our health system for the better. Hospitals are one area where big data analytics has already seen significant adoption. Becker’s Health IT lists five key opportunities for big data in hospitals:4
- Better point-of-care decisions
- Reduced patient readmissions
- Population health management
- Research advancements
- Operational improvements
Healthcare organizations that embrace the challenge of big data have the opportunity to improve the cost and quality of services to patients. Some hospitals are already creating command centers that crunch data and help staff predict what will happen in the next 24 to 48 hours.5 This helps them staff their wards more effectively and ensure every patient can be cared for.
New Tools Are Revolutionizing Healthcare Data Analytics
When we think about healthcare innovations, we usually think of new machines that help healthcare providers deliver care.
But much of the change we’ve seen in the healthcare environment has occurred behind the scenes — all thanks to new data technologies. The healthcare technology being deployed today is designed to optimize healthcare delivery, protect patient information, make predictions and adjust to changing policy and regulatory environments.
For example, one medical group in Nashville, Tennessee, built a data-driven, web-based application that accurately predicts the number of expected daily emergency room visits with an accuracy rate of 80-85 percent.6 This enables hospitals to staff correctly in advance, which saves on costs and ensures there are enough people on-staff during patient surges.
Other data analytics technologies are helping healthcare professionals develop new clinical techniques and even assisting with diagnostics. Data analytics can also help with billing and the general management of clinics, helping to reduce costs and save time.7
The Role of the Healthcare Data Analyst
Healthcare data analysts are sometimes called healthcare business analysts or health information management (HIM) analysts.8 They use their analytical skills to gather and interpret data from medical sources, such as electronic health records, claims documentation, expenditure reports and patient surveys. They then report the insights gained to organization stakeholders, so the organization can improve the quality of their care, lower costs and improve the patient experience.
To become a healthcare data analyst, you usually need a bachelor’s degree in health information management, health information management technology (HIMT) or a related field. However, there is a high demand for data analysts in this sector. Many organizations are searching for experts in other disciplines who have the skills necessary to collect and analyze healthcare data.
If you already have a degree in mathematics, statistics or data science, then you may simply need to re-up your skills to break into the healthcare data analysis field.
Overall, healthcare data analysts are similar to analysts in other capacities. They analyze data to gain insights, which are then used to drive decisions. But because those decisions are being made in a healthcare environment, they become even more crucial.
An Increasing Need for Trained Health Tech Professionals
Data professionals are in high demand in a variety of sectors, but there is a growing need for them in healthcare.
According to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA), there were almost 200 data-related healthcare job postings on a single job site within a three-month period. About 40 percent were posted by healthcare vendors and consultants, health insurance companies posted 18 percent and 16 percent were posted by healthcare systems.9
If you’re ready to take the next step in your healthcare data analytics career, there’s no better time than now to build a foundation in healthcare analytics, so you can start using data for good.