Data governance is the practice of managing data assets throughout their lifecycle to ensure that they meet an organization’s quality and integrity standards. The main focus of data governance as a practice is to ensure that users can trust their data. Trust is data is especially important in the healthcare industry hence the enormity of the healthcare data governance field. In a healthcare data governance program, users are held accountable for creating high-quality data and using that data in a secure, ethical, authorized manner. In the healthcare industry, health information management professionals are often responsible for developing and overseeing data governance principles that improve the consistency, reliability, and usability of data assets while optimizing EHR interfaces to eliminate unnecessary or duplicate steps for end-users and eradicate problematic workarounds.

The goal of these activities is to improve the efficiency of healthcare workers, foster an environment of accountability, and create a standardized, interoperable pool of big data that can be used for organizational improvements and higher quality clinical decision-making.

Considering the importance of healthcare data governance, there are best practices put in place which have been proven and tested. These best practices serve as a guide to healthcare organizations, health practitioners and data governance workers for navigating the data and its governance in the healthcare industry.

Best Practices

The best practices are listed below and the first three will be discussed in detail.

  • Data Quality
  • Data Access
  • Balanced and Lean Governance
  • Data Literacy
  • Data Content
  • Analytical Prioritization
  • Master Data Management

Data Quality

Simply defined, Data Quality is equal to the Completeness of Data times Validity of Data times Timeliness of Data. One of the single most important functions of healthcare data governance is ensuring the data quality. When the quality of data is low, it’ll have an impact on accuracy and/or timeliness of the organization’s decision making. A Data Governance Committee must be set in place to quickly react to low-quality issues and enforce changes required in source data systems and workflows. These sources systems and workflows are the ones necessary for raising data quality. The Data Governance Committee must make sure that these variables (completeness, validity, and timeliness) in the data quality equation a leadership priority.

Data Access

Data should be made accessible to all members of a healthcare organization and also to stakeholders. These stakeholders include but is not limited to members of the community and patients. The healthcare data governance committee should ensure that there is easy access to data and much transparency. In the most effective organizations, the healthcare data governance and information security committees are combined, thus forcing the members of this committee to balance the tension internally and streamlining what can otherwise be lengthy decision making and reconciliation between the two committees.

Balanced and Lean Governance

The Data Governance Committee should practice a cultural philosophy that believes in governing data to the least extent necessary to achieve the greatest common good.  Quite often, organizations will either over-apply data governance in their enthusiasm for the new function; or under apply data governance due to their lack of experience.  The best approach is to start off with a broad vision and framework, but the limited application, and expand the governance function incrementally, only as needed, and no more.

The Data Governance Committee should be a subcommittee to an existing governance structure, with the influence necessary to institute inevitably controversial changes to workflows, resolve data quality conflicts, and develop complex data acquisition strategies to support the strategic clinical and financial optimization of the organization.  The Data Governance Committee should also enlist front-line employees as Data Stewards who are knowledgeable about the collection of data in the source transaction systems such as the EMR, cost accounting, scheduling, registration, and materials management systems. Data Stewards are invaluable to the mission of the Data Governance Committee. CIOs who function horizontally, across business lines, at the application and data content layers of the information technology stack (as opposed to those who operate primarily at the infrastructure layers) are a natural fit for facilitating and leading the Data Governance Committee.