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What IT skills are essential to dig into healthcare big data?

To harness big data in healthcare, your staff needs the right mix of IT skills. Joel Vengco, CIO at Baystate Health, explains.

Healthcare big data can open the doors to precision medicine, population health management and value-based care. But in order to get there, healthcare organizations need to make sure they acquire the right people with a specific combination of skills. Joel Vengco, vice president and CIO at Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass., talks about what skills health IT professionals need in order to tackle big data in healthcare. Vengco is also the founder of TechSpring, an independent, not-for-profit organization affiliated with Baystate Health through which innovators can collaborate and develop healthcare technologies.

Tackling healthcare big data

I think the most basic skill set that you need is an understanding of terminology and data components -- or essentially data points -- inside of the healthcare system. In other words, you first need to understand how to construct a med[ication] order, for example, or a lab result because a lot of the designs -- the database designs in healthcare, EHRs or databases -- are still sort of disparate and stored in many different places. So to ensure that you've got the appropriate data structure, you need to understand how to construct that kind of data component. The second is you clearly need to have an understanding of how or what questions are being asked by your clinical colleagues. An important piece of this is to understand the business of healthcare -- but not just clinical, also financial. It's a mix of understanding the technology piece, which in many ways is really database components, terminology components and then matching that up with business knowledge, clinical and financial.

Challenges of big data in healthcare

An important piece of this is to understand the business of healthcare -- but not just clinical, also financial.

The challenge we've had in IT in the past is our first focus was to try to create a data warehouse without knowledge of what the business is asking for and without knowledge of what makes up a term or clinical content that can be analyzed. So when you try to extract data and put it into a data warehouse without that knowledge, you end up creating something that may not be useable. But having IT experts who know the technology side, the informatics side and the business side of healthcare will create better analytics, even better reporting for the business at large. And are we there? I think we're starting to get there with some of the technology. You know we certainly have more horse power, more CPU if you will, and compute power to start writing these algorithms. The biggest challenge now is how do we access that data from these EHRs? A lot of these EHRs are still a challenge in terms of allowing that data to be liquid or be available for analytics.

Let us know what you think about the story and impact of healthcare big data on organizations; email Kristen Lee, news writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34.

Next Steps

Learn more about big data in healthcare:

Lots of data but not enough analysis

Maine HIE takes next steps with data analytics

How providers can make better use of big data

This was last published in July 2015

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