Data Stewards Play an Important Role in the Future of Healthcare

Keep up with the latest on information governance as this key strategy emerges for addressing a myriad of information management challenges in healthcare. This blog will highlight the trends and opportunities IG presents for ensuring information is treated as an organizational asset.

By Neysa Noreen, MS, RHIA


Healthcare has reached an era where we are extremely data rich. Today, organizations have the opportunity to extract value from data resources to improve patient safety, increase efficiencies, and decrease the cost of care provided. In order to effectively use data, organizations need to implement a data structure that will provide continued data support in an ever-changing environment. While this task might sound simple enough, it is a complex process with many challenges. There are many data terms and concepts, roles, and structures to decipher, from information governance and data governance to data integrity, and data stewards… and the list goes on. In this IGIQ post, we are going to focus on the benefits of data stewards and why they are a necessary presence in every data structure.

Data stewards provide many benefits to an organization, from improved data quality to cost efficiencies. Data stewards have been around for years, but health information exchange (HIE) and emphasis on data comparison and quality has increased their necessity. Data stewards are essential to ensure standard data sets and definitions are implemented and used for data integrity and quality. Use of data standards and definitions results in increased data response, data trust, and cost improvements. Only when standards are used can data be reliable for data comparison with an organization and across external organizations. Standard data definitions help eliminate confusion and inaccurate data comparison. Data stewards can also assist to eliminate multiple data elements being used interchangeably, which leads to conflicting results based on who and where the data is being pulled. Take patient days as an example. What is the true definition of a “patient day?” Is it where the patient was located at midnight? Is the admission and discharge time calculated into a patient day? Are observation patients included or excluded in a patient day? This is just one simple example of how data can quickly turn from black and white to grey. With data stewards to ensure data standards and definitions are used, confusion and misrepresentation in situations such as this can be eliminated.

Now that we have identified why data stewards are essential to an organization’s data structure, we need to identify the best resources for the role. Data stewards are not another information technology (IT) resource. While they need to have an understanding of the technology, they must first have a thorough understanding of the data. Data stewards need to be the data experts who are entering and working with the data daily. The best data stewards are those who can incorporate the role of a data stewards into their current everyday role. Most organizations began collecting data prior to implementing data stewards. Because of this, there might not be clear data definitions. Incorporating data steward functions into existing roles gives data stewards an advantage because they already understand how the data has been collected and what needs to be done to resolve any discrepancies. This will result in cleaner data output and better trust in the data.

The true value of data stewards comes after they are implemented. Data standards and definitions as well as the knowledge data stewards will bring from their current roles supports meaningful comparison of data within an organization. Every organization has data requests that get completed and never used. This could be a result of the requestor being overwhelmed with the data or a change in project direction. Data stewards can assist in reviewing which data are or are not used, thus helping to reduce wasted data requests. The data review and comparison at an organization level can identify data redundancy and opportunities for cost efficiencies.

Implementing data stewards can be challenging. To obtain full organizational support, the value of data stewards must be shown. If your first attempt fails, make a few modifications and try again. Data stewards are critical in the success of data sharing and the future of healthcare. Effective implementation of data stewards can reduce data request turnaround times as well as increase customer satisfaction and trust in the data. These elements will in turn allow the organization to take an honest look at their processes to improve patient care, patient safety, eliminate waste, and decrease cost.


 Neysa Noreen is data integrity and applications manager at Children’s Minnesota.

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