Embracing Analytics: The Citizen Data Analyst Emerges [Part 1]

March 15, 2017 Susan Anderson

In the recent webinar, Data Liberation & Actionable Insights with the National Institutes of Health Informatics (NIHI), we explored the transformation of analytics and the benefits it can provide to healthcare stakeholders. In my new blog series, I will explore the insights shared during the webinar and some key takeaways for those looking to deepen their knowledge and use of analytics.

Traditionally, analytics teams are made up of professionals with complementary skills that typically included a data scientist, solution architect, data hygienist, data explorers, data expert and initiative expert. Because of the range of skills needed, it would be rare for an organization to find one individual who could perform well across this professional spectrum. In other words, a team effort was generally required. And still today, many of the medium to large healthcare organizations recruit analytics teams, and task them to gather data sets, data warehouses, business intelligence data cubes and develop dashboards.  

But the winds of change are blowing in the analytics field. Consistent with the trend of emphasizing public participation in consumer health, we are witnessing the emergence of the citizen data analyst.   Gartner coined the term 'citizen data scientist' in recognition that everyone is in position today to take on this new role in both their work and their life outside of work. Analytics technologies have now advanced to the point that anyone within an organization can leverage user friendly tools to execute analytics tasks and arrive at meaningful information in addressing questions without needing to call on the professional analytics team.   

During the webinar, I provided an example of the recent unveiling of a public website by Alberta's Health Quality Council (HQCA) of an Emergency Department Length of Stay Analytics Platform. The intended audience of this new website includes public, providers and health system administrators, and its goal is "to encourage thinking about why differences (between Emergency Departments) might exist [and how they] can start conversations and lead to solutions for improved quality of healthcare".  Instead of providing interpretations of all the data collected, everyone is invited to join the conversation. 

In my days of college teaching, we would equate this to student-based-learning; that instead of lecturing students, we would allow them to learn by their own exploration and discovery. I was impressed that HQCA also included a tab to open a data dictionary document to define terms in exquisite detail. Now, the citizen data analyst is equipped to handle wait time measures.  Even for those of us who were not paying attention in statistics courses in school can engage with some degree of confidence with our neighbors, our care team and our political leaders.  

With broader access to their digital health data, many Canadian consumers will join the community of citizen data analysts. Tethered portals for patients have provided a useful learning environment whereby some Canadian provider organizations have enable patient viewing of portions of their health data. The next wave of tools will shift from provider managed data to consumer managed data, that will ultimately result in consumer patients having direct management of their electronic health record, with data flowing from provider systems via application program interfaces.  

Subscribe to be notified when the next part of this blog series is published. My next blog will explore other consumer analytics successes and tips on how leaders and consumers can take advantage.

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