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Data Governance for Improving Patient Care, by Terri Mikol, UPMC

Data analytics in healthcare should be easier.  We will never find the cure to cancer if everyone who has a data question has to call IT to request help obtaining and interpreting data.

I often wonder if I should admit that I have worked with data in the healthcare industry for 26 years.  I have dedicated most of my career to transforming raw data into valuable information, and yet in healthcare organizations, we are still faced with daily data challenges as the questions we need to answer continue to get more complex.   I miss my early years at UPMC where reporting on readmission trends, length of stay, and utilization of patient care services made me an expert in my field.

Now we are being asked to predict patient outcomes, to determine what it costs to take care of an entire population of diabetic patients throughout their lives, and to say which chemotherapy will work best for a patient with a specific medical history and gene sequence.  The volume and variety of data we work with in healthcare have exceeded what IT and the informatics groups can manage alone.   It is time to admit that even with all of our talents and heroic efforts, we just can’t keep up with the demand.

This is not how I want my career to end.   I believe our data contain the answers to each and every question we will ever ask.   We just have to find a way to make working with data easier, so that everyone who has a question can get the answer on his own! People should not need formal training in software development to make use of data.  Everyone should be able to query and analyze data!

I’ve been given an opportunity at UPMC to help the organization take a giant step toward becoming a truly data-driven enterprise.   This is NOT about creating yet another data warehouse or implementing yet another dashboard.   UPMC’s Data Governance Program, which uses Informatica’s tools, is simply about engaging more people in data-related work.   We believe that the best way to elevate the data analytics abilities of UPMC employees is by giving them actual data-related roles.   It is through “doing” that people will begin to gain confidence in their analyses and shift from thinking that “data is something IT works with” to “better data is everyone’s job.”

The term “data governance” is a bit off-putting to most.   At UPMC we simplify the program’s mission by focusing on these 5 questions:

  1. Where can I find the information I need? (metadata)
  2. Where did this information come from? (metadata)
  3. Is this information any good? (data quality and master data)
  4. What do these data mean? (metadata) 
  5. What am I permitted to do with this data? (data policies)

We have studied various models for data stewardship and have crafted a unique approach designed to take advantage of existing experts (minimize the increase to head count) and to engage hundreds of people in official data roles.   Our Data Governance Council is composed of 15 senior leaders representing operational, clinical, financial, IT, and research business units.  The council sets our program priorities, approves data policies, and selects information owners.  Our information owners govern key data domains across all systems and care settings.  For example, we have a single information owner who governs all scheduling and patient registration data for our hospitals, physician offices, clinics, home health, rehab, and skilled nursing facilities.   The information owners are granted decision rights and accountability for all data collection, data use, data movement, data archiving/purging, and data meaning.   Each information owner selects multiple data stewards to represent the local business unit uses of their data domain.  The data stewards propose business definitions, manage master data, and address data quality issues.   Data owner and data steward are the most commonly found roles in the popular data governance models.  At UPMC, we have two additional types of stewards.   Each one of the 1,000+ applications in operation at UPMC has an application steward who is responsible for maintaining application metadata, participating in master data initiatives, and improving the data quality of the application data.   Our final type of steward is named an analytics steward, who represents a team of people creating reports, analytics solutions, or data sets for distribution.  We have found that these individuals who focus on decision support bring a unique set of skills to the table.  They are the most familiar with the challenges related to the secondary use of data and often have best insight to what can add real value.

The Data Governance Program at UPMC is not a project with a beginning and an end.  This program involves changing the way we work - now, and into the future.  We have enhanced our standard system development life cycle to include standard tasks for the collection of metadata, the creation of master data, and the profiling of data for business rules.   The organization is beginning to engage the appropriate information owners and stewards for data-related work, and we are slowly replacing the informal “phone a friend” network with documented institutional knowledge for everyone to reference. 

I have 17 years until I retire, and we have only just begun to make analytics easier at UPMC.   This is not a sprint; it is a marathon, and one that is slowly attracting more participants.    There is no shortage of new data, and we may never capture it all, but we will start, and we will persist!

For more information on UPMC’s Data Governance Program, contact Terri Mikol at mikoltj@upmc.edu.

Terri Mikol has 29 years of experience in Information Technology with a focus on software development and transforming data into valuable information.   She has worked in Healthcare related organizations for 26 years, with 12 years of focus on Healthcare Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence, and 4 years  of focus on Data Governance.    Her deep experience with high volume, high variety, and highly complex data, has enabled her to lead efforts to deploy a unique Data Governance Program at UPMC, designed to increase value of UPMC’s data assets by engaging the entire organization in data related work to make self-service analytics a reality.

Terri has a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a member of the Data Governance Professional Organization.

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