Data StewardSHIP Takes a Whole Crew!

Data StewardSHIP Takes a Whole Crew!

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 Betty Rockendorf, MS, RHIA, CHPS, CHTS-IM


A steward is a person appointed to supervise or keep order. Data stewardship helps promote a robust and sound data governance program that will facilitate good information governance practices. From my past experience as a HIM Director, these are traits that fall naturally to many health information management (HIM) professionals—they are born organizers and would be a great addition to a data stewardship team or crew.

In researching for this blog, I came upon a phrase from former CEO of Intel Andy Grove, who said that “Technology happens.” The challenge is that the technology is creating so much data that healthcare professionals and organizations need to get a handle on it. In order to do that, sustainable processes are needed. Data users should have role-based access readily available as appropriate and organizations should implement an enterprise data warehouse to ensure one source of truth for data being used. Data stewardship enables accountabilities and is the glue that holds all the information together for the healthcare organization (the “ship”). Through enterprisewide data stewardship, organizations can have more confidence in the data they are creating, sharing, maintaining, and using for business and clinical decision-making

Eric Just, in a recent article for Health Catalyst, suggests that the data steward “focuses on providing the appropriate access to users, helping users to understand the data, and taking ownership of data quality.” Rather than one person filling the role of data steward, Just recommends it “may be best to have many data stewards—at least one for every major source of data in the organization.” In putting together this team, the ultimate goal would be for data stewards to have a shared vision and to “strive to generate the best possible data for the best possible patient care and [be] willing to come to mutually identified and defined concepts,” as Sandra Nunn says in a recent For the Record article.

Healthcare organizations may want to be thoughtful about the process rather than hastily assigning someone to be a data steward. It is important to have data stewards fall within the business units rather than solely within IT—noting that data stewards and IT should maintain a collaborative relationship based on data needs. Data stewards need data skills, so begin your search by looking at your current “go-to” experts. Look at people who are currently working with data in the following areas:

  • Clinical
  • Financial
  • Coding
  • Data
  • Technical
  • Compliance

Next, consider one of the following models when launching data stewardship (from SAS Best Practices):

  1. Data Steward by Subject Area. In this model each data steward owns and manages a discrete data subject area (their own field of expertise).
  2. Data Steward by Function. Each data steward focuses on their individual department using the data.
  3. Data Steward by Business Process. A model for organizations who have a strong sense of their enterprise level processes. Data stewards are responsible for multiple data domains or applications for their specific business process.
  4. Data Steward by Systems. Data stewards are assigned to the systems that generate the data they manage.
  5. Data Steward by Project. This is a practical and fast way to introduce data stewardship. It’s often a temporary approach than can be handled through a project management office which assigns data stewards to projects with the goal that work processes are documented for use by other project teams. Once introduced, it can lead to a more formal approach (Models 1-4).

There are pros and cons to each of the above models, but it’s a starting point to establishing a more solid data governance program. Some of my students (in the HIMT Capstone course) have had the opportunity to work in IT departments who are taking inventory (also known as an information asset inventory) of all the applications in their organization—which department owns it, who in the department is responsible for it, which department supports it, level of access required, whether the application contains or transmits PHI. Here again is an important starting point. An inventory database or spreadsheet is created with the information gathered, and then policies and data standards can be established and enforced. This exercise would also be a great way to identify the “go-to” experts in the various areas, or the potential data stewards to get on board!

Without data stewardship, an organization is missing out on all the value that could be generated from the data every day; if only it were organized and put in order! Data stewards ensure the quality of the data through pre-defined accountabilities, standards, and processes for those who work with the data. They are key to organizations having the ability to view their data more holistically and leveraging that data as an asset for more informed decision-making. Make sure that your organization has the right crew fit for governing data, so that you can be better prepared to tackle whatever lies ahead of your ship in this flood of big data!


Betty Rockendorf, MS, RHIA, CHPS, CHTS-IM is Program Director for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Health Information Management and Technology program, and President of the Wisconsin Health Information Management Association.

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