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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.

When The EMR Goes Down, Doctors Freak Out

Posted on August 22, 2013 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.

Earlier this month, health IT superstar John Halamka, MD, MS posted a story talking about how network downtime within a hospital has changed over the past 10 years or so. I thought I’d share some of it with you, because he makes some interesting points about end user perceptions and sensitivities.

First, he tells the tale of a 2002 network core failure of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he serves chief information officer. For two days, he reports, the hospital’s users lost access to all applications, including e-mail, lab results, PACS images and order entry, along with all storage. Or as he puts it, “For two days, the hospital of 2002 became the hospital of 1972.”

He then contrasts that failure with a recent one  (July 25 of this year) in which a storage virtualization appliance at BIDMC failed.  Because the hospital was loathe to risk losing data, he and his team chose a slower path to uptime — reindexing the data — which allowed them to avoid data loss. The bottom line was an outage of a few hours.

This outage was a different ballgame entirely, Halamka says. For example:

* In 2002, staff and doctors weren’t incredibly upset, but this time physicians were angry and frantic, with some noting that they couldn’t take care of patients without EMR access.  Here in 2013, end users expect network access to be like electricity, always there short of an act of God. Worse, though downtime simply isn’t acceptable, but procedures for dealing with it aren’t up to that standard yet, he says.

* Doctors are under an incredible set of regulatory burdens, including but not limited to Meaningful U se, health reform, ICD-10 and the Physician Quality Reporting System. They fear they can’t keep up unless IT functions work perfectly, he observes.

* Technology failures of 2013 are tricky and harder to anticipate. As he notes, back in 2002 servers were physical and storage was physical, but today networks are multi-layered and virtualized. While these things may add capability, they also crank up the complexity of diagnosing system failures, Halamka notes.

Halamka says he learned a lesson from the recent failure:

Expectations are higher, tolerance is lower, and clinician stress is overwhelming. No data was lost, no patient harm occurred, and the entire event lasted a few hours, not a few days. However, it will take months of perfection to regain the trust of my stakeholders.

This story does have one ray of sunshine in it — it demonstrates that increasing numbers of doctors depend completely on their EMR, a state devoutly to be wished for by many health IT leaders. But the price of having doctors throw themselves into EMR use is having them riot when they can’t get to the system. Clearly, hospitals are going to have to find some new way of coping with downtime.