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Building the Data Analytics Team

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   November 03, 2015

Leaders are finding that recruitment from the outside can be useful but difficult, and that internally, talent can be developed to support analytics efforts.

This article appears in the October 2015 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Healthcare's many imperatives, including population health, require keen analytical resources coupled with a deep understanding of clinical systems and the obstacles that face healthcare's march to achieve the triple aim.

Finding and training talented staff—from line analysts all the way up to visionary chief medical information officers and chief information officers—remains a tall order. By and large, however, analytics team leaders find it is easier to train clinicians in the art and science of analytics than it is to find, hire, and train data analysts from outside of healthcare.

"It's not a skill that you can learn going through some training program outside of this industry," says Selvan Ekambaram, director of business intelligence and data warehouse at MemorialCare Health System, a six-hospital integrated delivery system in California's Orange and Los Angeles counties, with between 650 and 700 affiliated physicians. "You pretty much need to have healthcare-specific industry experience for you to call yourself a practitioner."

Often, providers such as MemorialCare must contend with job candidates who prefer to remain independent consultants, instead of coming onboard as full-time employees, "because they know the demand for this particular skill set is so high," Ekambaram says. "Recruiting and retaining these specific skill sets that are needed for running a program like a data analytics shop like we're trying to do here is not easy."

MemorialCare has had a couple of full-time positions open for nearly a year. The kind of skills required generally fall into two categories: data integration and content visualization. Data integration involves procuring and consolidating different data sources such as EHR data, claims data, and patient satisfaction data. Then that data must be visualized and deployed, Ekambaram says. All told, the MemorialCare analytics team engages 21 workers. A second branch, which serves the organization's independent physicians associations and medical groups, contains another 25 workers involved in pay-for-performance reporting and quality metrics for ambulatory settings. Six other analysts joined MemorialCare when it acquired Seaside Health Plan.

One successful strategy: Tap into talent at healthcare payers. "We recently rolled in one full-time equivalent who came in from the payer industry, although we would prefer recruits from the provider space," Ekambaram says.

The team uses an iterative process by which it presents data to clinicians and determines if that data is as useful as possible, if there might be ways to better present the data, or if it should enable clinicians to further explore the data presented—an aspect known broadly as self-service business intelligence analytics.

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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