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Ross Pounds
Senior Manager

What is healthcare data stewardship and why is it important?

April 21, 2021
0 min read
Professionals discuss healthcare data stewardship in glass building

As the medical world becomes ever more digitized, healthcare organizations face massive amounts of data to sort through and protect. That's why healthcare data stewardship is an increasingly essential practice that ensures the ethical, speedy and organized management of vast amounts of patient and clinical data.

The modern healthcare industry is anchored by data, but that data comes with limitations that are unique to the industry. The private, personal nature of health data can be very powerful in determining treatment plans and optimizing care. But having control over so much sensitive information means that someone needs to be accountable for it all - from the way that it's organized and accessed, to knowing the risks associated with improper use.

Healthcare data stewards can solve many of these problems.

What Is Healthcare Data Stewardship ' Is It Different From Data Governance?

Healthcare data stewardship often gets confused with data governance, but there are several critical differences.

While data governance refers to high-level organizational data policy and compliance with government laws and regulations, healthcare data stewards do the essential work of communicating and coordinating between departments and employees to ensure that the everyday work of the organization can move forward. They manage the data warehouse, which is the place where data can be stored, and implement the policies made under the data governance program.

They are the link between the IT department and the business office of a healthcare organization.

The Importance of Data Stewardship in Healthcare and Why It Should Be on Your Board's Agenda

Data stewardship is especially essential in the healthcare field because of the amount of personal data healthcare organizations handle.

When handled correctly, analysis of patient data can improve organizational speed, help to understand treatment and care options better, and streamline communication. When handled irresponsibly or not dealt with at all, the data an organization collects can become a liability.

Unsecured or improperly regulated healthcare data warehouses can expose healthcare organizations to risks like massive data breaches and resulting suits or legal action against unethically used personal data. As of 2020, the average cost of a healthcare privacy breach topped $7 million, according to IBM, a figure that's up more than 10% year-over-year.

Benefits of Health Data Stewardship

As medical records move toward digital storage and archiving, companies can now rely more on data-driven decision-making, leveraging the data they collect to make strategic decisions.

One example of this in action can be seen in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Never before has data from a pandemic been collected and stored on such a scale and with such accuracy. Countless healthcare organizations were able to quickly pivot from their normal duties to positions where they could provide public services such as COVID-19 tests, treatments, and eventually vaccines.

Because of data organization and analysis, healthcare providers could read trends from their patients who had contracted COVID-19 and design solutions to address the growing crisis. Health data stewards were the unsung heroes of the pandemic, working behind the scenes to make sure all the information was accessible, secure and used ethically.

What Is a Data Steward, and What Are Their Responsibilities?

The role of data steward is broad, encompassing more people in an organization than their titles might lead you to believe. A data steward may wear other hats as well, integrating their stewardship duties with other positions.

The title of Data Steward often takes in other data-care roles, such as data corrector or data coordinator. In some larger organizations, these roles may be inhabited by a number of employees. In other organizations that are in the process of developing their data stewardship program, the role might only require a single person.

Data Steward vs. Data Analyst

Data stewards should not be confused with data analysts, as they are very different roles.

While analysts interpret and use the data, stewards care for and optimize it, organizing it and managing the archive for ease of use and access. Data stewards are often more involved in questions of how, why, and if data should be used than actually breaking it out and looking for trends or patterns.

The Data Steward's Role and Responsibilities in Healthcare

The central responsibilities of a data steward generally include:

  • Oversight of organizational compliance with confidentiality and privacy guidelines
  • Oversight of the right people receiving the appropriate data
  • Protection and security of the organizational data warehouse
  • Personal data de-identification when needed
  • Data quality upkeep

What Tools Are Needed To Empower Your Data Stewards To Be Successful?

Healthcare data stewards need a couple of essential tools to be able to do their jobs.

Firstly, they need a data warehouse that fits the needs of the healthcare organization so that the data stewards can effectively manage it.

Secondly, data stewards need intelligent software to help them sort through and distribute the data to the correct people and departments. Sometimes, these two tools even come in the same package.

Best Practices for Choosing Effective Health Data Stewardship Tools

The best set of health data stewardship tools for an organization should be rooted in reliability and security, with consideration also given to ease of use. Tools that offer 24/7 customer service teams can help to quickly mitigate potential problems as they happen, while intuitive platforms that are easy to use can cut down on training time.

Of course, all of this is of little importance if the system is not secure. High-quality data warehouse and processing tools will allow data stewards to do the work of oversight, upkeep, and ethical data use to the best of their abilities without slowing down the process.

Healthcare data stewardship plays a vital role in modern medicine, helping organizations to deftly spot opportunities and avoid potential problems. Diligent can help providers meet these evolving needs with a set of digital governance tools that can grow and adapt to each enterprise's needs. Learn more about Diligent's solutions for healthcare organizations here.


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