What is Data Governance in Healthcare?

Doctor or medical personnel holding tablet viewing patient information

Data may be healthcare organizations’ most vital asset. When leveraged properly, data can give insights into health risk factors, generate more accurate and quicker diagnoses, and ensure patients receive the best quality of treatment.

However, when organizations do not have the right data processes and governance programs in place, it can lead to bogged-down workflows, risk of significant fines, leaks of highly sensitive information, and dissatisfied clients.

A data governance program can ensure your organization manages, protects, and leverages its data for maximum success and efficiency.

What is Data Governance in Healthcare?

Data governance is a set of policies, processes, and procedures embedded into the daily functions of a healthcare organization. It ensures sensitive information is secure, organized, accurate, and complies with regulations and policies.

The purpose of data governance is to identify what data and information is important, establish the processes to manage it, and measure the effectiveness of the effort in achieving business objectives.

4 Reasons Why Data Governance in Healthcare is Important

Data governance is vital in every industry, but is particularly crucial for the healthcare sector because of the following reasons:

  1. Data sensitivity
  2. Complex regulations
  3. Cybersecurity threats
  4. Improving treatment and patient outcomes

Data sensitivity

Data concerning individuals’ health is some of the most personal and sensitive data to exist. Unauthorized disclosure can have drastic consequences, including discrimination and violation of one’s fundamental rights.

Healthcare organizations house massive amounts of highly sensitive data, including patients’ medical history, insurance information, Social Security numbers, credit card and billing information, and diagnosis data.

Data governance programs work to protect this data and ensure patients’ privacy and safety.

Complex regulations

The healthcare industry is highly regulated, particularly around data security and privacy.

These regulations are far from a new concept. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was established in 1996, and other regulatory frameworks like the Healthcare Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) followed in the 2000s.

Yet some organizations still struggle to comply with these regulations. Failing to comply with the guidelines laid out by these bodies can result in up to eight-figure fines. (See our healthcare security case study to learn more.)

In order to avoid costly fines and continue operating, healthcare organizations need to implement data governance programs to ensure compliance with these regulations and keep their data secure.

Cybersecurity threats

Healthcare organizations store a high volume of extremely sensitive data, including information on patients’ health conditions and treatment, as well as their financial and billing information.

If hackers access this data, they can use patients’ personal and financial data for blackmail and fraudulent billing.

This makes healthcare organizations a frequent target of cyber-attacks; in fact, the FBI’s Internet Crime Report found that the healthcare industry faced more ransomware attacks than any other critical infrastructure sector.

Healthcare is also more likely to pay a ransom than any other sector. One study revealed that 60% of respondents who experienced encryption in the healthcare industry paid the hackers ransom, in comparison to the cross-sector average of 46%.

A strong data governance program plays a key role in preventing sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

Improving treatment and patient outcomes

To provide the best treatment and care for their patients, healthcare providers need to be able to quickly and easily access accurate information in the proper format. Having complete patient data on hand ensures the right clinical decisions can be made.

A data governance program can remove data silos, improving cross-department collaboration and communication and ensuring providers have access to comprehensive patient data.

This, in turn, improves operational efficiency and significantly enhances the quality of patient care.

How To Develop a Data Governance Program in Healthcare

Key steps for establishing a successful data governance program within your healthcare organization are:

  1. Obtain executive sponsorship
  2. Identify and train your change leaders
  3. Make the plan as RACI as possible
  4. Determine privileges
  5. Automate for efficiency

Obtain executive sponsorship

Embedding data governance processes into the daily routine throughout your organization will help improve the overall quality and accuracy of reporting, which in turn drives greater decision-making capabilities.

The first step to realizing those benefits is gaining executive buy-in. A data governance program will only succeed if your healthcare organization’s executive leadership understand the importance of being data-driven and are directly involved in and supportive of the program.

Once your organization’s leadership recognizes the value of data governance, they play an instrumental role in the design and implementation of a vision, strategy, and roadmap.

Identify and train your change leaders

To effectively enact change in your organization, you need to identify early adopters who can serve as the champions of your new data governance program.

These leaders need to be accountable, enthusiastic, and connected to the right resources. They also need to fully understand the data governance program, including its challenges, and benefits, so they can communicate about it effectively.

Follow a RACI model

Your data governance program should encompass a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted & Informed) model so everyone within your healthcare organization understands their role in the process.

You will increase the odds of success by forming a strong organizational structure with clear roles and responsibilities, along with approvals that complement your existing change management process.

These roles may include:

  • Data users: The team members who use and input data as part of their day-to-day job function
  • Data owners: The team members who are responsible for, and are thus a point of contact for, a certain type of data.
  • Data stewards: The team members who serve as the champions of your data governance strategy. They help to enforce policies and procedures and train new employees or team members in data governance.
  • Data governance council or committee: This group helps to oversee the data governance strategy, approve new policies, and guide the program.

Determine privileges

A data governance program should ensure that everyone only has access to the data they need to do their job. Assessing and setting permissions is a key part of the process and ensures greater data security within your healthcare organization.

This step is not a one-and-done. Instead, implement a process that ensures data owners audit permissions on a regular basis and can add and remove access when necessary.

Automate for efficiency

Automating data governance can improve efficiency, reduce costs, and reduce errors in your data processes. It also enables your teams to shift their time to more valuable work, benefitting your patients and your entire healthcare organization.

Automation can be incorporated in a variety of areas within your data governance program, including data requests, permissions requests, approval processes, data management, and transformation and integration of data from diverse sources.

Successfully Implementing a Data Governance Program

Healthcare organizations are managing massive amounts of sensitive data today. If done properly, data governance initiatives can protect that data, ensure compliance with regulations, increase efficiencies, and reduce overall costs.

At AIM Consulting, our data governance offerings provide clients with support at every step of their data governance journey, from strategy to execution.

Our experts optimize the management of your data through the entire data lifecycle, resulting in a high-quality, data-driven culture within your healthcare organization. The result of these efforts is highly available, accurate, and protected data.

Need Help With Your Data Governance?

Implementing an effective data governance program requires commitment, strategy, and leveraging best practices. If you want to empower your employees and drive sustainable success, our data & analytics experts can help.