The Changing Role of Healthcare Data Analysts—How Our Most Successful Clients Are Embracing Healthcare Transformation (Executive Report)

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The healthcare industry is undergoing a sea change, and healthcare data analysts will play a central role in this transformation. This paper explores how the evolution to value-based care is changing the role of data analysts, how data analysts’ skills can best be applied to achieve value-based objectives and, finally, how Health Catalyst’s most successful health system clients are making this cultural transformation happen in the real world.


The focus on performance improvement in the healthcare industry has grown from a handful of demonstration projects to a nationwide movement. Significant drivers of this trend include:

  • Costs. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), U.S. healthcare costs account for an estimated 17 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP)—and CMS predicts healthcare will increase to 20 percent of the GDP by 2020.
  • Quality. Payers are moving from a fee-for-service to a value-based care model.
  • The aging population and longevity. An aging population, combined with the prevalence of chronic diseases, contributes to higher healthcare costs.
  • Demand for healthcare value and transparency. Consumers will continue to demand higher quality as they pay for a larger portion of their healthcare costs—and as quality, cost and satisfaction metrics become more transparent through digital and social media.
  • Population health management. Providers are seeking to proactively manage entire populations of patients rather than simply treating those who present at the hospital or office with symptoms.

Every healthcare organization, without exception, is grappling with the challenges presented by the need to transform healthcare. At the core of healthcare transformation is data-driven quality improvement; therefore, a key tool these organizations are turning to is healthcare analytics. In fact, healthcare analytics is a prerequisite for all major performance improvement initiatives underway to address value-based care in an automated, cost-effective and efficient manner. As a rule, healthcare organizations are aware of the vital importance of healthcare analytics in their efforts to improve performance. Health Catalyst recently surveyed members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). Survey respondents—CIOs or other senior IT executives of U.S. healthcare organizations—provided a high-level view of the many competing priorities for IT investment that hospital leaders face in the era of value-based care. Here are some facts the survey revealed: Consumers will continue to demand higher quality as they pay for a larger portion of their healthcare costs—and as quality, cost and satisfaction metrics become more transparent through digital and social media. Healthcare analytics is the highest IT priority of the survey group. 54 percent of respondents rated healthcare analytics as their highest IT priority, followed by investments in population health initiatives (42 percent), ICD-10 (30 percent), accountable care/shared risk initiatives (29 percent) and consolidation-related investments (11 percent), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: CHIMES survey result—IT infrastructure investmentsFigure 1: CHIMES survey results—IT infrastructure investments

The survey group overwhelmingly saw analytics as important to their organizations. More than 90 percent of the survey respondents view analytics as “extremely important” or “very important” to their organization within the next 1-3 years, when a combination of government requirements and market pressures will force many of these issues to the forefront (Figure 2).

Figure 2: CHIMES survey results—the importance of analyticsFigure 2: CHIMES survey results—the importance of analytics

Analytics is important for tackling a variety of healthcare trends. The respondents also rated the importance of healthcare trends that are accelerating the adoption of analytics. Survey takers ranked population health management highest at 84 percent, followed by quality improvement (79 percent) and accountable care (68 percent). Other important initiatives ranked by survey takers included the need for cost reduction (63 percent), for a “single version of the truth” (59 percent), for better reporting (54 percent) and for research (17 percent)—as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: CHIMES survey result—analytics driversFigure 3: CHIMES survey results—analytics drivers


As analytics is increasingly recognized as a critical enabler of healthcare transformation, the role of data analyst has taken center stage. Health Catalyst conducted a recent survey of attendees at the Healthcare Analytics Summit (HAS) Session: Getting the Most out of Your Data Analyst. The survey data showed how important data analysts are to their organizations. Ninety percent of respondents claimed that the role of data analyst is either very important or important, as displayed in Figure 4.

Figure 4: HAS survey results—the value of data analysts’ rolesFigure 4: HAS survey results—the value of data analysts’ roles

At the same time, the survey revealed just how little time these analysts are able to spend fulfilling their job title: analyzing data. In fact, 79 percent of data analysts spend more than half of their time gathering versus analyzing data (Figure 5).

Figure 5: HAS survey results—amount of time analysts spend gathering dataFigure 5: HAS survey results—amount of time analysts spend gathering data

For data-driven healthcare transformation to succeed, this paradigm must shift. To deliver their true value, analysts need to spend the majority of their time analyzing data. The flow of data is becoming the lifeblood of organizations—and deriving meaningful insights from this data will be the key to survival in a changing industry.

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