Health Care

What is Health Care Analytics?

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Director of Health Care and Nursing Informatics and Health Systems Leadership

Can big data save lives? Advocates of the emerging field of health care analytics certainly believe it can.

Big data analytics is transforming the way organizations do business in dozens of industries. But the impact may ultimately be most profound in the field of medicine, where advanced health care analytics holds the potential to revolutionize patient care.

Big data is already having positive effects on many areas of health care, including:

  • Advancements in telemedicine
  • Enhanced patient engagement
  • Wearables that provide real-time alerts
  • Disease prevention/population health
  • Improving/refining treatment standards
  • Potential to help cure diseases
  • Improved staffing efficiency
  • Prevention of opioid abuse

As the nation’s top technology innovators partner with health care organizations to leverage valuable insights from the immense amount of health care data being generated and collected each day, the search is on for new ways to transform rapidly expanding databases into improved outcomes for patients and entire populations.

“Hidden within those databases could be the keys to improving patient care, reducing administration costs and saving lives,” says Dr. Helen Wong, an oncologist who is at the forefront of using data analysis to save lives.

How the Data Revolution is Transforming Health Care

The transition from old-fashioned paper records to electronic health records (EHRs) for patients is one of the most significant factors contributing to today’s avalanche of health care data. However, there are many additional sources as well; these include:

  • Clinical data from Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE)
  • Real-time data from the new generation of wearable medical devices
  • Machine-generated/sensor data, such as from monitoring vital signs
  • Insurance claims, billing and cost data
  • Research and development data
  • Prescription data

In addition to leveraging health data analytics to improve clinical care, researchers are also focused on finding ways to deliver care more cost-effectively through data-driven analysis of financial systems, supply chains, fraud and human resources staffing.

One example of utilizing health care analytics to improve care while saving money comes from Minnesota, where Allina Health System realized more than $45 million in performance improvement savings over five years by using data to adjust its approach cardiovascular care across its 13 hospitals and 82 clinics.

Going forward, it is projected that health care analytics will have a significant impact in many other important areas, including:

  • Epidemiology: Health care analytics professionals are experimenting with data visualization to identify and more quickly control disease outbreaks.
  • Clinical trials: Health data analytics is expected to help researchers go to market faster with important new drugs.
  • Genomics: Advanced understanding of how diseases affect different people will enable medical researchers to develop personalized medicine based on individual DNA makeups.
  • Social factors: Heightened ability to analyze data about the social determinants of health (such as where patients live, work and shop, what they eat, conditions related to their environment, etc.) opens new possibilities to better predict disease trends and to develop health and disease prevention programs.

The ongoing challenge for those working in health care analytics is to drill down to derive actionable insights from the ever-deepening sea of health care data.

Health Analytics and Health Informatics

So how does the vitally important field of health care analytics connect to the broader discipline of health informatics?

Noting that “often the two disciplines are erroneously seen as one and the same,” the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) asserts that “data analytics and informatics are both essential for the success of health care organizations,” and explains the differences between them as follows:

Health data analytics refers to analysis of the data using quantitative and qualitative techniques to be able to explore for trends and patterns in the data — to acquire, manage, analyze, interpret and transform data into accurate, consistent and timely information.

Health informatics refers to va collaborative activity that involves people, processes and technologies” to use the information derived from data analytics to “improve the delivery of health care services and improve patient outcomes.”

In an article titled “Data Analytics and Informatics are Two Separate Disciplines,” AHIMA explains that data analytics involves the actual analysis of the data and informatics is the application of that information. In terms of what this means for the professionals who work in these two closely related disciplines, the AHIMA article further explains that:

Health informatics professionals apply their knowledge of information systems, databases and information technology to help design effective technology systems that gather, store, interpret and manage the data that is generated in the process of providing health care to patients.

Health data analysts find ways to capture and use the data that is acquired by health information technology systems, within the health system or from external sources, and then display it in meaningful ways through graphs, charts, etc. to help demonstrate how an organization can improve clinical care and decision-making.

AHIMA depicts the “Informatics vs. Analytics” relationship in this infographic.

USD_Health Informatics_Health Care Analytics_Infographic

Analytics provides the pathway to transform data into information. Informatics involves leveraging advanced technology to use that information for health care decision making and actions.

Career Opportunities in Health Analytics and Health Informatics

Because the fields of health care analytics and health informatics are still relatively new, demand is high for qualified professionals who possess the necessary skills. This talent shortage has created a world of opportunity, particularly for those who work in the related field of health information management (HIM).

In an article titled “Data Scientist Shortage Creates Competitive Job Market for Analytics, Informatics,” Journal of AHIMA Associate Editor Mary Butler reports that HIM professionals who are “adding data analysis skills to their toolboxes are doing themselves a favor in terms of job security.” She describes a graduate student earning an advanced degree in statistics weighing four competing job offers before choosing one with a six-figure salary at an analytics firm focused on health care companies and hospitals.

Health Care Analytics Jobs

A recent LinkedIn search for jobs in health care analytics reveals thousands of results, including such job titles as:

  • Analytics specialist
  • Senior analyst
  • Analytics manager
  • Strategic consultant
  • Associate director, research and analytics
  • Senior health care analyst

Health Informatics Jobs

A LinkedIn search for jobs in health informatics also reveals thousands of results, including such job titles as:

  • Health informatics consultant
  • Health informatics analyst
  • Director of health informatics
  • Senior developer (health informatics)
  • Product manager (health informatics platform)
  • Lead health informatics analyst
  • Business informatics specialist
  • Health informatics research analyst
  • Clinical informatics analyst

This includes a variety of employers ranging from health care organizations and providers to technology companies, universities and government agencies.

Health Data Analyst Responsibilities

 One employment website that is seeking health data analysts lists some of the key job responsibilities as follows:

  • Compiling and organizing health care data
  • Analyzing data to assist in delivering optimal health care management and decision making
  • Using health care data to achieve administrative needs and goals
  • Understanding data storage and data sharing methods
  • Investigating data to find patterns and trends
  • Understanding health care business operations
  • Utilizing different data sources for analyses
  • Converting data into usable information that is easy to understand
  • Developing reports and presentations
  • Communicating analytic insights to stakeholders

Health Informaticist Job Responsibilities

Positions in health informatics cover a wide range of responsibilities depending upon whether one is employed in such specialties as clinical informatics, public health informatics, biomedical informatics or nursing informatics. Core responsibilities may include:

  • Understanding health care, information systems and information technology security
  • Analyzing data to help facilitate decisions and actions
  • Developing data-driven intitiatives designed to improve patient care
  • Collaborating with other departments to develop strategies for more cost-effective delivery of care
  • Designing and implementing technological tools to measure data, patient care effectiveness and processes
  • Facilitating compliance with regulatory and privacy requirements

AHIMA’s Butler offers additional insights into health informatics and the sub-domain of data analytics in “Workaday Informatics: How Healthcare is Applying Practical Informatics to Save Dollars and Lives.”

How Health Care Analytics Connects to HIM

The field of health information management is undergoing a transformation as advanced technology fuels the continued growth of health analytics and informatics.

“Health information management professionals are working at the nexus of the analytics and informatics fields,” said Stephanie Crabb, co-founder and principal at health care innovator Immersive, writing about an AHIMA Data Institute conference where analytics and informatics professionals compared notes about advancing in their careers after gaining invaluable experience in HIM roles.

Opportunities for HIM professionals to advance into health analytics and informatics roles are also emphasized in an AHIMA report titled “HIM Reimagined” (see video).

[RELATED] How Health Informatics is Shaping Future of Health Information Management >>

Certification and Education: Health Care Analytics and Informatics

Among other initiatives, AHIMA’s HIM Reimagined report discusses supporting educational opportunities that “align HIM professional skills with future workforce needs in areas like data analytics, informatics and information governance.”

Specialized training for health care analytics and informatics professionals ranges from certification programs like the Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) designation administered by AHIMA to advanced degree programs like the Master of Science in Health Care Informatics offered by the University of San Diego (USD).

The CHDA certification provides practitioners with “the knowledge to acquire, manage, analyze, interpret and transform data into accurate, consistent and timely information, while balancing the ‘big picture’ strategic vision with day-to-day details.”

The innovative Master’s in Health Care Informatics program at USD integrates health care technology, clinical analytics, leadership and business knowledge and skills to prepare graduates for a range of careers in both health data analytics and health informatics. Offered online and on-campus with flexible class schedules for busy working professionals, the program gives students the option of choosing one of three focused learning tracks: Health Care Informatics, Health Care Analytics or Health Care Leadership.

Certification and educational programs like these are invaluable in helping students develop and hone the sought-after hybrid skill set of both advanced health care knowledge and applied information technology capabilities.

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