The Essentials of a Data Stewardship Strategy

Everyday, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (yes, that number has 17 zeroes in it!). And the pace of data creation only continues to accelerate. As good data stewards, we must take ownership of the data we create and harness it to solve healthcare’s challenges while making our systems more efficient.

In this article on information governance and data stewardship, we illustrate the roles data use and retention policies play in advancing healthcare.

Every healthcare innovation begins with good data

The sheer volume of data that we create and have access to is staggering. There is no end to the possibilities for making use of that data. And, when you’re just getting started with an information governance and data stewardship program, this can feel overwhelming – especially in healthcare.

After all, we are (quite literally) dealing with life and death.

But, we’re also talking about empowering innovation – new treatment protocols, solution designs and cures. Being responsible for the quality of the data that helps healthcare advance is daunting – but it’s also what motivates us to make sure we’re all working with good data.

When properly cared for and intelligently applied, data empowers us to make great strides in areas like population health and predictive analytics. The foundation for it all rests squarely on the shoulders of those who craft and enforce solid data stewardship practices.

Ensuring access to accurate data

Population health relies on the analysis of data about health outcomes across vast populations. This type of analysis is becoming increasingly common to treat widespread chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. For the analysis to be done well, researchers require a lot of data about a lot of people, and the more accessible and well-organized that data is, the more empowered they’ll be to positively impact the health of whole populations. Population health and data analytics also influence prevention and education efforts. The list of what can be done with the data is endless, but before anyone can do anything with it, the data must be easily and seamlessly accessed by the people who need it, when they need it and how they need it.

Ensuring high-quality data is readily accessible is the goal. It’s why, when legacy system data combines with new system data, it’s critical to have good data stewardship practices in place. When data is spread over multiple, disparate systems, it’s significantly more difficult to gain insight from it. Providing users with a seamless way to access and work with legacy data while using the new system helps unleash the power of that data for access at the point of care.

Although it may be daunting at first, with some planning and foresight, instituting effective data stewardship practices maximizes the ability to use data, on both a micro and macro level. Combining disparate systems into a single framework and caring for the data within it empowers clinicians and staff to make huge strides for healthcare – whether we’re talking about process improvements or curing a chronic illness. Creating information governance policies that help you properly care for your data empowers better decision making and elevates the level of care you provide to the part of the population that comes through your doors.

Three ways to fuel a culture of compliance for information governance

Data stewardship is a subdomain, a discipline if you will, within information governance predicated on ensuring the accessibility of data assets. In short, successful data stewardship prevents your organization from being data-rich, but information-poor. The key to this is the data steward.

Responsible for a system or type of data within an organization, data stewards are experts on the data type or system they manage. On top of that, they are responsible for providing appropriate access levels to and maintenance of the quality and longevity of the data within the systems they oversee.

Even in the best-case scenario, data stewards wear a lot of hats.

With one person having multiple roles, effectively leveraging the resources of your organization to effect meaningful change and consistent compliance requires an effective data stewardship plan.

Here are three areas for hospital and health system leaders to think about when creating a culture of information governance within their organizations:

  1. Consider the Role

Think of a data steward as a bridge connecting your organization’s information governance committee and the business units to which they report. Working with the committee, they’ll evaluate processes, identify issues and make decisions about the direction of the organization. An effective data steward will also advocate for information governance policies within the organization. Often these high-level discussions do not resonate with the workforce at large and it falls to the data steward to convey why these policies are important to the direction of the organization.

  1. Manage Resources Effectively

Maintaining the quality and longevity of data is just the beginning of effective data stewardship. Another major consideration is resource sharing. Providing high-quality data that is easily and consistently accessible across the organization is the goal. Understanding the dynamics between the end users and the policies and goals set by the information governance committee keeps the information flowing in a useful, consistent way.

  1. Secure and Control Your Data

In addition to ensuring data fidelity within an organization, effective data stewardship also means properly securing that data by implementing engineering controls for access. Under the umbrella of information governance, data security is critical to protecting the organization from liability issues stemming from HIPAA violations. This means effective data stewardship requires implementing a variety of safeguards to protect the data and minimize the risks to the organization.

With the vast amount of data your organization produces daily, properly caring for it is integral to your clinicians’ ability to provide information-based care. Supporting your data stewards by fostering a culture of compliance empowers a sense of shared ownership of your organization’s data. This not only benefits adherence to policies, but it also improves your clinicians’ care delivery, your staff’s service levels and, ultimately, elevates patient experiences.


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