Why and Who Should Ensure Quality Health Data?

Contrary to common belief, technology does not own health data. Data exists as a result of the input of multiple sources of information throughout each patient’s healthcare continuum. The data does not exist only because of the technology but rather because of the careful selection of meaningful data items that need to be captured and at what frequency (ie. instantly, daily, weekly, etc.).

We in healthcare collect granular data on anything ranging from demographics, past medical, surgical, and social history, medication dosage and usage, health issues and problem lists, disease and comorbidity prevalence, vital statistics, and everything in between. We collect data on financial performance with benchmarks and reimbursement trends using individual data elements from accounting transactions. Healthcare organizations have been collecting the same or similar data for decades but never before have we been able to operate with such efficiency as we do now thanks to advances in technology.

We have become so data rich in the healthcare environment in a short amount of time and this data continues to multiply daily. But are we still information poor? When we continue to generate data but fail to aggregate the data into quality information, we are essentially wasting bandwidth and storage space with meaningless and disconnected data.

Every time patients have interactions with healthcare providers and facilities, data is generated. Over time, the data that is generated could (and should) be used to paint a picture of trends in patient demographics, population health, best practices in care, comorbidities and disease management, payment models, and clinical outcomes. This information becomes useful in meeting regulatory requirements, overcoming reimbursement hurdles, clinical quality initiatives, and even promotional and marketing material for healthcare organizations. This data could have opposite effects if not properly governed and utilized.

It goes back to the saying “garbage in, garbage out.” If the data cannot be standardized or trusted, it is useless. Input of data must be controlled with data models, hard-stops, templates, and collaborative development of clinical content. Capturing wrong or inconsistent data in healthcare can be dangerous to the patients and healthcare quality measurements as well as leading to unwanted legal actions for clinicians.

So who is the right person for the job of ensuring quality data and information? I have seen bidding wars take place over the ownership of the data and tasks surrounding data analysis, database administration, and data governance. Information Technology/Systems wants to provide data ownership due to the skills in the development and implementation of the technology needed to generate and access data. Clinical Informatics professionals feel they are appropriate for the task due to the understanding of clinical workflow and EHR system optimization. Financial, Accounting, Revenue Integrity, and Decision Support departments feel comfortable handling data but may have motives focused too heavily on the financial impact. Other areas may provide input on clinical quality initiatives and govern clinician education and compliance but may be primarily focused on the input of data instead of the entire data lifecycle.

When searching for an appropriate home for health data and information governance, organizations should look no further than Health Information Management (HIM) professionals. Information management is what HIM does and has always done. We have adapted and developed the data analytics skills needed to support the drive for quality data abstraction and data usage (just look at the education and credentialing criteria). HIM departments are a hub of information, both financial and clinical therefore governing data and information is an appropriate responsibility for this area. HIM also ensures an emphasis on HIPAA guidelines to keep data secure and in the right hands. Ensuring quality data is one of the most important tasks in healthcare today and trusting this task to HIM In collaboration with IT, Informatics, and other departments is the logical and appropriate choice.

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About the author

Erin Head

Erin Head

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

1 Comment

  • I agree that HIM professionals are the “who” to ensure quality of health data. I believe that the “why” is because HIM professionals understand use and disclosure better than any other stakeholder in the healthcare eco-system. Because many of us “own” the record and we must follow laws and regulations related to authorized use and disclosure – we know who is using the data and why. Thus, we want to guard and ensure quality data.

    HIM professionals are responsible for the integrity of the health record within provider organizations. Therefore they are very much in tune with how the record was populated and by whom. Also, in many instances HIM professionals are now working with clinical users on resolving issues related to the population of the health record – whether the issue originates from online documentation or via interfacing or via document capture. HIM professionals are obejctive stakeholders – understanding the clinical informatics team is concerned with ensuring the technology is supporting clinical workflow and understanding that IT is building and supporting that workflow. There has to be an objective champion – and that is HIM.

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