The rise of data literacy in the healthcare industry

Feb. 27, 2018
Jordan Morrow
Global Head of Data Literacy,

We are in an unprecedented time in history, where a new industrial revolution is taking over and altering the landscape. Just how much data is being produced? One commonly cited statistic from EMC states that by 2020, there will be 44 zettabytes of data, but so what, what is a zettabyte of data? To help draw that picture, that would be 44 trillion gigabytes of data. Not million or billion, but trillion.

One of the landscapes greatly impacted by data is healthcare. Healthcare has always been a field where volumes of data have been produced—vitals, lab and test results, DRGs and costs, and much more are captured. Now it is imperative for the healthcare industry to use and grasp this data! Not only grasp it, but utilize it to the betterment of the healthcare field as a whole.

Analyzing volumes of data—vitals, lab and test results, DRGs and costs—is essential to ensure that you and your organization are doing all that you can to build data literacy skills.
Courtesy of Qlik

Utilizing data

There is a key question that needs to be asked, though, before jumping in and thinking the healthcare industry is ready to effectively make use of this data: Do individuals, hospitals, organizations have the necessary skills to utilize this data in a way that will drive insights and make them data-driven? This question has become the backbone of a lot of thinking and decisions across many fields and industries as of late, and has helped drive the emergence of a field that has always been there, but has been neglected for far too long: Data literacy.

What is data literacy and how is it impacting the healthcare field right now? Why has data literacy been more in the background instead of at the forefront of data? When one looks at the definition of data literacy, which MIT and Emerson University have defined as the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data, one can quickly say “sure, organizations and individuals are absolutely positioned well to succeed with data literacy.” This thinking is probably more reactionary, and when one dives into the organizational structures, cultures, and the skill-sets of individual employees, it becomes very apparent that we are not ready to utilize and succeed with data. Organizations and individuals have been so quick to jump on the catchy and trendy bandwagon of big data, they have neglected to address the fact that most individuals do not go to school to become mathematicians, statisticians, econometricians, computer scientists, and so forth. In fact, if you dive into the numbers, you will find that most people do not consider themselves to be data literate. How can this be? Healthcare and other industries have been producing tools and technology to help us to gather and obtain more and more data, so how can we not have the talent and skills necessary to succeed with this data?

Embracing data

The answer to that question is simple and complicated at the same time: We have neglected the need to create the right culture and right skills for data literacy. How can this be done? How can the healthcare field start to embrace more data effectively and succeed in this new industrial revolution?

The key to solving data illiteracy starts with the understanding that individuals and organizations etc. need to buy into the data revolution that is occurring. They need to accept it and embrace it. Is that simple? Not necessarily. Organizations are made up of many, many different personalities. In addition there are many different cultures as well. Creating a data literate culture starts at the top. Within the leadership of your organization or hospital, ensure they are buying into the revolution, communicating down the need to utilize data, and ensuring that investments are made to improve data usage and understanding. When the leadership buys in, this can help set the culture of the organization to utilize data. When we mention culture, we are not saying you need to alter your culture, just weave data throughout the existing culture.

As for individuals in an organization, they also need to embrace the data revolution for good, seeing it for what it is: The ability to be more effective and efficient in their roles. As individuals embrace the revolution, they will embrace their own weaknesses and find the gaps they have in the four characteristics of data literacy: The ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data. When an individual understands their weaknesses, they can start to embrace and improve their skills.

The fourth industrial revolution

Data literacy is here to stay. The healthcare industry is primed and ready to embrace this fourth industrial revolution. Ensure that you and your organization are doing all that you can to build your data literacy skills. As you do this, you will find new insights, make better decisions, and help drive the healthcare industry to success with data.

Jordan Morrow is Qlik’s Global Head of Data Literacy, helping individuals and organizations realize their data and analytical potential by bringing to light and enhancing skills in data literacy. When not found within data and analytics, he can be found with his family or trail running the mountains of Utah.