The Benefits Of Creating Data Stewards

Posted on December 7, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Maybe I’m behind the times, but until today I’ve never heard of the notion of a “data steward” for healthcare organizations. An article I read today from the Journal of AHIMA IGIQ blog has given me some ideas on the subject to ponder, however.

The blog author lays out a role which combines responsibility for data structure and consistent data type definitions — in other words, which sees that datatypes are compared on an apples-to-apples basis and that data categories make sense and relate to each other appropriately.

In the article, “Data Stewards Play an Important Role in the Future of Healthcare,” writer Neysa Noreen, MS, RHIA, notes that providers are already struggling to categorize and describe types of medical data, much less leverage and benefit from them. But while we need to impose such a level of discipline, it isn’t easy, she notes.

“[Creating a workable data structure] it is a complex process with many challenges,” Noreen writes. “There are many data terms and concepts, roles and structures to decipher from information governance and data governance to data integrity,” which is why we need to put data stewards and place in many organizations, she suggests.

Though the idea of the data steward isn’t new, “emphasis on data comparison and quality has increased their necessity,” Noreen argues. “Data stewards are essential to ensure that standard data sets and definitions are implemented and used for data integrity and quality.”

The question then becomes what qualifications and skills a data steward should have. According to Noreen, data stewards aren’t necessarily IT experts. What they will need is to have a thorough understanding of the data itself and how to extract value from that data on the broadest level.

Data stewards will often turn out to be people who are already working with data in some other manner, which will allow them to know what organization needs to do to resolve discrepancies between data definitions, according to Noreen. Such a past also gives them a head start in figuring out how data can be organized and leveraged effectively into classes.

Given their knowledge of data standards and definitions, as well as a history of working with the data sets the organization has, data stewards will be in a good position to make data use more efficient. For example, they will be able to review and compare data requests on an institutional level, identifying data redundancy in finding opportunities for cost-efficiencies.

Having given this some thought, I find it hard to argue that most healthcare organizations could benefit from having a data steward in place. Providers may begin by starting with a committee that handles this function, rather than creating one or more dedicated positions, but eventually, the scope of such efforts will call for specialized expertise. Expect to see these positions pop up often in the future.