Data Analytics Leaders: A Key to Continued Healthcare Innovation

By Hillary Ross, J.D. and Scott Dethloff

Turning healthcare data into actionable information has never been more important than now. Healthcare IT budgets are expected to grow by 20 percent or more in the coming year and one of the top investing initiatives is analytics. With the ability to not only increase revenues, but also improve the quality of patient care, it only makes sense that analytics is becoming a priority in the healthcare industry. The global healthcare analytics market is projected to reach $50.5 billion by 2024 and as of September 2018, top U.S. tech companies have spent $4.7 on healthcare acquisitions. These emerging health tech companies are collecting an immense amount of data through innovative mHealth tools and open a myriad of possibilities for analytics to drive the improvement of healthcare. Both in the healthcare delivery setting and healthcare technology companies, there is a sharp focus on data and analytics.

With the advent of value-based care initiatives at health systems and hospitals across the nation, in accordance with CMS reimbursement and star-based awards, many organizations are embarking on a critical journey to create robust and centralized data analytics teams. Historically, data silos have existed in healthcare focused on individual domains and controlled by that leadership. Organizations that can effectively break down those fiefdoms of data and execute on consolidation will be better poised to identify variances more quickly, spot key drivers and put together action plans. Across healthcare, many organizations are utilizing data-driven methodologies to drive decision making within increasingly complex enterprises.

As a result, there is a huge demand for experienced leaders to champion data and analytics.  These leaders serve as master change agents building the critical foundations needed to exploit value from their ecosystem’s data assets and to drive transformation. This includes envisioning data-enabled strategies and enabling all forms of healthcare quality, value, safety, and business outcomes through analytics. These analytic experts are also responsible for providing leadership and vision in strategic analytics development, data governance, personnel and fiscal responsibility, and in developing strategic relationships with a wide variety of key leaders and other stakeholders. The demand for experienced, innovative leadership in this role is high and the skill sets and backgrounds that make for success can be varied and unique.

Position Titles and Goals

These roles have different titles and responsibilities and report to various C-suite leaders depending on the organization. However, there is one common denominator: organizations are striving to stay ahead of the curve in an attempt to leverage analytics resources to become agile, fact-based organizations striving for performance improvements and utilizing data and prescriptive and predictive analytics for operational excellence.

In our work, and in talking with health IT leaders across the industry, we are seeing new roles and titles appearing around data analytics leadership. Chief Data Officer, Chief Analytics Officer and VP of Strategy and Analytics are a few of the more frequent examples of titles for these roles. Sometimes data and analytics fall under Chief Strategy Officer roles. The responsibilities of these roles can include oversight of the analytics functions, and many include leadership over enterprise-wide data assets and analytics technology platforms as well. Additional responsibilities often include data governance leadership, data stewardship and enterprise data warehouse management in addition to the entire technical stack across the enterprise. Frequently, healthcare organizations are looking for significant advancements with regards to data access, quality and standardization as they attempt to play catch-up in a world increasingly driven by big data insights.

Successful executives in this space usually align their efforts closely with the strategic goals of the institutions they serve. Often, this comes in the form of improving patient quality care, and patient safety arenas where rigorous performance analytics, benchmarking and process improvements are then leveraged to drive improvement in publicly reportable metrics. As a result, the users of data are often senior leaders in operations, finance, clinical leaders and C-suite leaders who attempt to integrate cross sets of data to glean insights on drivers of change in order to improve processes. As an example, population health strategies are highly dependent on the ability of organizations to effectively stratify patient populations based on socio economic data and then coordinate that with EHR and claims data to identify at risk populations. 

Further, the reporting structure of these positions vary. C-suite analytics roles can report to the CEO or COO, but many still report to the CFO or Chief Strategy Officers at providers. CIOs and in many clinical data functions, the CMO, are frequent direct reports for these leaders.

In terms of backgrounds for these roles, many candidates come from the traditional technical positions such as programming or data analyst roles. Others have strong data science educational backgrounds and training and have moved to the strategic side. Many have experience at large consulting firms that provide data and analytics strategic planning. Experience with providers, payors, or related industries such as data science is often a common theme. Gold standard candidates in the space have a mix of technical, data science, and strategy experience and are able to evangelize and educate the broader enterprise on creating value from the use of data.

Data analytics positions are of high importance and are increasingly being recruited into healthcare systems across the country. There is also a market for data positions in healthcare technology companies, vendors, consulting and payor firms that focus on strategy and innovation for their clients. These positions will create a significant positive change in the delivery and business of healthcare.

This article was originally published by Healthcare Innovation. Permission to reprint has been granted.