What is a Healthcare Data Analyst?
A healthcare data analyst is a professional who helps healthcare organizations collect, organize, and interpret extensive amounts of data about their clinical, financial, and administrative functions. The resulting information is then used to design, develop, change, or refine policies and procedures to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and outcomes.
Healthcare data analysts work within a specific department of a healthcare organization, or at an a more general level. They may guide the methods the organization uses to collect data so that the most relevant information is being used in identifying trends, patterns, and strategies for the organization's future.
The essence of a healthcare analyst’s role in an organization is to use the available data to determine how well the organization is meeting its objectives and to offer data-driven strategies for improvement.
What Does a Healthcare Data Analyst Do?
Healthcare organizations generate significant amounts of data relevant to some or all of their processes, depending on the focus and scope of their services. The information being processed in a hospital billing department is different than in an orthopedic surgery practice. In either setting, this role requires the individual to use advanced statistical and analytics skills such as data mining, quality assessment, and project management design. Software design, programming, and biostatistics strategies are also helpful.
In a clinical setting (one in which direct patient care services are being delivered, such as doctor visits, consultations, surgeries, or other medical procedures that involve a healthcare professional and the patient) healthcare data analysts provide a number of services or there may be multiple analysts assigned to different areas. Analytics in this setting might include:
- Collecting and analyzing data about how many of a certain kind of screening test are given to patients in a given timeframe, and suggesting ways of improving the clinical flow so that more patients are screened;
- Interpreting information about provider referral numbers and rates, identifying barriers in process flow that inhibit patient follow-through and access to the services recommended by their providers, and suggesting strategies for addressing those barriers to care;
- Studying clinic and treatment outcomes of specific conditions, concerns, or populations to improve value and efficacy of the clinical services provided.
In a non-clinical setting, such as the billing department of a hospital system or insurance company, healthcare data analysts work with a wide variety of data sets to determine if non-clinical objectives are being met. They may be responsible for determining how well the organization is meeting its financial objectives, how revenue cycles are impacted by policies and procedures, and areas in which the organization can change policies and procedures to more closely align with their goals. Some areas in non-clinical setting include:
- How vendor and contractual relationships impact the organization’s performance and might be improved;
- How payor sources contribute to population health management;
- How well staffing models meet the financial and clinical goals of the organization, and other areas of cost management;
- Which metrics might be helpful in providing additionally needed information for further policy design, and how those might be implemented.
Data from healthcare organizations is generated by every department and eventually is aggregated and interpreted at some level of the organization to help determine outcomes and mechanisms for improvement.
Why Do We Need Healthcare Data Analysts?
Because of advances in technology and electronic health records, healthcare organizations of all types are increasingly able to track vast amounts of information about a wider and wider scope of areas. This information is only helpful if knowledgeable professionals are able to translate the raw data into succinct informational points that industry leaders can use to formulate policies and procedures to improve practices and outcomes.
What Do You Learn in a Healthcare Data Analyst Degree Program?
- Analytics: How to design analytics strategies for accurately identifying clinical and administrative challenges and generating solutions, using advanced software analytics platforms and the resulting data sets.
- Interpretation of Data: How to interpret health outcome data relevant to particular populations, such as what factors drive disproportionately high readmission rates or disease detection among some patient populations but not others.
- Data Integration: How to integrate healthcare data in value-based policies and procedures, to ensure that direct care professionals are correctly utilizing testing and procedures for optimized patient care and value.
- Identifying Trends: Trends in healthcare analytics, such as new ways of data mining and modeling; projection; and meaningful use.
- Quality Improvement through Data: How to apply data analytics to quality improvement in healthcare outcomes and services, so that the data generated is being optimally used for important and relevant purposes.
- Statistical and Programming Tools: How to use statistical and data programming techniques to build new data files for analysis, including a variety of software programming platforms, analytics programs, and established statistical models.
- Building Customized Models: How to integrate patient data into design models, which means customizing analytics process according to what is known about a population to create more nuanced tools for deeper understanding.
- Data Presentation: How to present healthcare data to organizational leaders as it relates to service delivery and outcomes, so that raw data is translated into information that executives can use to create new, more effective policies and procedures.
- Data Management: How to effectively manage patient’s health information for patient and organizational excellence in care and sustainability.
What are the Requirements to Become a Healthcare Data Analyst?
Requirements for a successful candidate for these important and exciting positions vary. Many organizations require that candidates have at least a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such Health Services, Information Technology or Systems, Biometrics, Statistics, Health Information Management and Technology, or a health field such as a Registered Nurse.
These programs are typically standard undergraduate courses of study that require between 120 and 140 credit hours to graduate, and include coursework in Mathematics, Statistics, basic software development and coding, and information systems. Health Information Management Technology programs are typically fewer credit hours than other traditional Bachelor’s courses of study. Admissions to Bachelor’s programs typically require a High School Diploma or GED.
Some employers prefer candidates with a Master’s degree in one of these areas or a related area. Master’s degree programs are typically two year programs, although there is increasing flexibility at some schools that allows students to work at an accelerated or slower pace, according to their needs. Master’s degree admissions require the completion of a Bachelor’s degree and may require advanced graduate admissions tests, depending on the program.
Other employers are less interested in formal educational programs than demonstrated success in a similar position and skills mastery in the areas of software, metrics, project management, and information technology. For candidates without a degree, it is important to have at least three years of job experience with excellent references and demonstrated success. Some companies require competencies in software programming systems such as R, Python, and SQL, for example.
Certified Healthcare Data Analyst (CHDA)
The CHDA credential is issued by the The American Health Information Management Association. The CHDA credential is not a requirement of most positions, and is not globally recognized. It requires eligible individuals to pass an exam, and is available to those who meet one of the following criteria:
- Has a Healthcare information management credential (RHIT) and minimum of three years of healthcare data experience;
- Has a Bachelor’s degree and a minimum of three years of healthcare data experience;
- Has a Master’s in Health Information Management (HIM) or Health Informatics from an accredited school;
- Has a Master's degree or higher, plus one year of experience in healthcare data management work.
What is the Work Environment for Healthcare Data Analysts?
In this position, individuals may be working as part of a team or relatively independently. The size of the organization, the structure of the management and executive teams, and the scope of the specific role will all influence the day-to-day working environment for a healthcare data analyst. They may find themselves working in a variety of environments within a single position, as they work with the relevant professionals in the areas of analysis to which they are assigned. These individuals may report to an IT manager, a department manager, or an Executive.
What Skills are Required to Become a Healthcare Data Analyst?
While educational requirements may vary between employers, individuals who want to pursue this career will need to have established skills in the following areas:
- Database management and manipulation (Excel, SQL, Microsoft Access GUI, etc)
- Data Modeling
- Data Analysis and related tools, such as SAS
- Data presentation to a diverse audience of interdisciplinary professionals
- Software programming
- Excellent interpersonal and organizational skills
- Able to unequivocally meet deadlines
- Background knowledge of the healthcare field and key terminology
- Dedication to improvement
How Much Does a Healthcare Data Analyst Make?
Salaries in this area are relative to the professional’s experience and the complexity of the role. Other factors influencing salary for this position include location, size of the organization, scope of the individual's’ role within the organization, and how many other professionals within the organization are dedicated to the same project.
Depending on size and scope of the job, organizations may have one positions or many, concentrated in one department or distributed across the company. Estimates of healthcare data analyst positions range from the mid $50,000 range to the mid $70,000 range.
What is the Job Outlook for Healthcare Data Analysts?
Technology has vastly expanded the amount of internal data available for review by organizations and healthcare spending in the United States continues to expand at an exponential rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health information technicians is expected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026.
Additionally, healthcare entities are increasingly scrutinizing the value-added potential of every aspect of their operations, meaning that these positions have excellent growth potential.
What Careers are Similar to Healthcare Data Analyst?
Health Information Management Technology
The utilization of cutting edge health informatics to meet certain objectives, improve administrative and clinical outcomes, and apply data to real-world healthcare solutions. Protecting patient privacy, adhering to regulations, maintaining compliance, and increasing the efficiency of clinical and non-clinical practices are all part of Health Information Management Technology.
The interdisciplinary science of designing, developing, and building meaningful and efficient health information management systems, including electronic health records, patient data storage, and metrics for tracking outcomes. Health informatics professionals develop tools and mechanisms that contribute to improved understanding of healthcare processes, patterns, and anomalies.
The public health sector is an important way of translating population health data into meaningful community initiatives and programs that improve the quality of life for citizens regardless of where they get their healthcare. Public health professionals contribute to the general population’s well-being by initiating and analyzing research and making recommendations on public policies that will benefit large numbers of individuals.
Individuals who are interested in implementing policies and procedures to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes are often interested in healthcare administration positions. These positions include various levels of management in healthcare organizations, where individuals manage the implementation of policies and procedures that will improve the quality of care, value, and overall functioning of the organization. These roles frequently bridge the clinical and executive teams, and serve as a liaison between the direct care providers (such as doctors and nurses) and Executive-level managers (CEO’s, COO’s, etc).