The importance of a data scientist in healthcare

The rapid advancement of mobile devices and cloud technology has changed the game in healthcare.

As hospitals and healthcare organizations are seizing the opportunity to enhance patient care and keep up with the latest new device, Big Data is presenting big opportunities and big challenges.

Fitbit®, digitized activity tracking devices, and other electronic data delivery streams continue to grab attention with consumers and clinicians alike as key drivers of the digital healthcare landscape. But hospital efficiency improvements are not going to be solved with the next generation wearable alone. Beyond consumer tracking devices, data is coming from multiple disparate sources including EMRs within health systems, presenting multiple challenges ranging from interoperability issues, to privacy and security concerns.

Increasingly, hospitals are hiring data scientists to fully realize the benefits of data gathering and more important, data analytics within their organizations. The title and job description alone underscores the breadth of Big Data opportunities for the healthcare industry. But what exactly can they glean from the massive amounts of data points running through hospital systems and healthcare organizations?

By managing throughput and workforce optimization analytics projects, hospitals can drastically improve efficiency, staff satisfaction, and patient satisfaction by re-scheduling nursing shifts and moving equipment such as X-Ray machines. These changes seem simple yet are quite complex and require a lot of precision and therefore a lot of data from many sources – hence the important responsibility of the data scientist.

For example, imagine designing the "Emergency Room of the Future" by optimizing its physical layout. By analyzing data feeds from small wireless ID badges worn by doctors, nurses, and other staff as they journey through the physical and digital worlds of a real emergency room – you have the ability to track their movement, key actions, and time spent on each activity and can combine it with patient survey responses. Armed with such vital information, hospitals can easily identify bottlenecks and ways to move people and equipment more efficiently.

The resulting data and recommendations can help hospitals build a better facility that provides doctors and nurses more time to help patients, ultimately improving the patient experience and staff satisfaction.

By having the right data in place, everything from balancing the supply and demand of emergency room staff to being sure the right nurse serves the right patient for their expected condition at the right time, healthcare organizations can greatly reduce costs and readmissions.

Hospitals everywhere want to reduce repeat visits, improve patient outcomes, and reduce cost – all required as risks shift from patients to providers. The goals and initiatives are not new. But the technology and tools that can accelerate achieving them break new ground and stand ready to deliver tangible results.

Andy Allaway is a data scientist at Philips, Andover, MA; Kevin Petrie is a technology evangelist at Attunity, a Big Data management company in Burlington, MA.

® Fitbit is a registered trademark of Fitbit Inc.

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