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Live from iHT2-Cleveland: Data Stewardship, Governance Issues Emerging as Huge Issues in Data-Fueled Organizations

April 19, 2016
by Mark Hagland
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At iHT2-Cleveland, industry leaders parse the emerging challenges around data governance and stewardship

On Monday morning, industry leaders shared a wide range of perspectives on the first panel discussion of the day at the Health IT Summit in Cleveland, sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2--a sister organization to Healthcare Informatics under the Vendome Group, LLC corporate umbrella). But what all the panelists in the session "It's All About the Data" agreed on was this: data stewardship, data management, and data governance are going to become increasingly urgent concerns, as patient care organizations move into a new era, becoming data-driven enterprises.

Don Reichert, vice president and CIO of MetroHealth Systems (Cleveland) led a panel of leaders, including Thomas E. Love, Ph.D., professor of medicine, epidemiology, and director of the Biostatistics and Evaluation Unit in the Center for Health Care Research & Policy at Case Western Reserve University at MetroHealth Medical Center (Cleveland); Greg Rosencrance, M.D., chairman of the Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic; Jeffrey Sunshine, M.D. Ph.D., CMIO at University Hospitals (Cleveland) and a member of the faculty of Interventional & Diagnostic Neuroradiology; Rush Shah, product manager in the PCe Analytics Factory at the Charlotte-based Premier, Inc.; Patrick Mergler, director of cancer informatics at University Hospitals Seidman/Case Comprehensive Care Center; and Michael McQuaid, U.S. Healthcare Solutions, OnX Enterprise Solutions (Cleveland).

Issues around the management, stewardship, and governance of data and data processes ran through the panel session, often dominating the discussion. Early on, Premier's Shah put one of the core challenges very bluntly. "Almost everyone recognizes that every organization is awash in data," Shah said. "There are far too many excel spreadsheets floating around. And a big issue we have is master data management; as well as vocabulary harmonization. You have all this data in different systems that you have to harmonize. And you have to somehow enrich the data with metrics. But how are you doing your analysis of your data? Just describing facts and throwing your data together, into this junkyard of data, is not helping. you need to bring things together in a way that really makes for a story."

In fact, Shah went on to say, "You need to practice some kind of medical journalism around data that gives data its meaning. So I think," he said, "the drive needs to be in that direction. And the relevance comes with this idea of data stories. Are we describing our data in terms of stories that make sense and appeal to people?"

Mergler noted that "There is a lot of momentum in the federal government around the inclusion of patient-reported data being required. In the future, you're going to be required to find out how patients feel when they're at home--for example, their sharing with us their level of nausea, etc. And that will be a big step forward. I think that patient-reported outcomes data will be one of the most important advances in the next few years" in this area, he added.

Dr. Love said that inevitably, "There will be a lot of noise," as many new types of data are added to the mix. “What does a data point mean? What does a hemoglobin a1c or a blood pressure reading mean? It is about patterns in populations, as well as about individuals’ patterns. And in terms of the quality of the data, we can’t shy away from the questions, but we don’t have the answers now,” he said.

Where Will the Data Scientists Come From?

Reichert said, “Today, we are using a new term called ‘data scientists.’ If you talk to people about what a data scientist is, it’s someone who’s writing reports, but also doing some analytics behind that. So how do we acquire more data scientists, and do we have to grow them ourselves?” he asked.

“We face this challenge every single day of a big skill deficit,” Shah said. “We are trying to grow them in-house. We’re trying to get master’s degree graduates from data science, but they’re not that versed in healthcare. So the big question is, do we get a technology person and teach them healthcare, or vice-versa? I personally am biased towards getting a healthcare informaticist. And data science comes with a lot of jargon that is not understandable to a layperson. So we’re trying to actually teach them graphic design and communication. We want healthcare people, because they have a sensitivity to healthcare, to patient care. We have to humanize the data but at the same time be really sensitive to the nuances and the complexities, we cannot just ignore it. So I think it’s not just data science, business intelligence, or analytics, it’s more than that. And I am on the side of getting a healthcare person who’s interested in information science.”

Mergler said, “I agree with what Rush Shah has said. The problem,” he said, “is that the ones who are really good, we can’t afford. Even so, data scientists have actually been out there forever,” though often called other things, Merger added. “When I worked for Johnson & Johnson, we went to the gaming industry, the most advanced in terms of analytics. They’ve been doing it for decades. So they’re out there, but the problem is that they haven’t been coming to healthcare as they should be.” He noted some efforts in the Cleveland metro area to attract people to data science, data analytics, and healthcare informatics that have begun to bear fruit. “The reality,” he added, “is that we need to build a team that collaborates well and works across organizational barriers. That’s the way we have to be in that game. And it’s a competitive market.