Do you geek out over numbers, equations, and statistics? Do you frequently question existing assumptions and processes? Do you want to stay in health care? If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then a job in healthcare data science—a field that focuses on the use of health data to inform decisions and make new discoveries—may be a good fit for you.
What exactly is a data scientist?
“A data scientist is somebody who is inquisitive, who can stare at data and spot trends. It’s almost like a Renaissance individual who really wants to learn and bring change to an organization,” says Anjul Bhambhri, vice president of big data products at IBM.
More than 6,000 companies nationwide currently hire data scientists, according to Data Science Central. And increasingly, these companies are in the healthcare sector. As big data continues to grow commensurate with electronic health records, healthcare data scientists are the ones who manage and merge data sources, create visualizations, build mathematical models, and present insights—all with the goal of producing answers, predictions, and calculations as quickly and accurately as possible.
A simple search for “healthcare data scientist” on indeed.com generates more than 3,300 jobs nationwide, many of which require previous healthcare experience and knowledge of patient data.
According to the most updated information available on Glassdoor, data scientists earn an average annual salary of $113,436. The need for big data skills continues to lead to pay increases—approximately eight percent over the last year, according to research firm Foote Partners’ 2016 quarterly IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index. It’s fair to assume that those working in health care—and who possess a formal health information management education—may earn even more due to their specialized knowledge.
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Blending a health information management and data science career
According to AHIMA’s Career Map, many HIM employers actually require or strongly prefer a master’s degree for certain types of data-related positions such as informaticist researcher, data analyst, research and development scientist, project manager, director of clinical informatics, or chief clinical informatics officer. A master’s degree in data science certainly fulfills these requirements.
Even if you don’t intend to advance your career in the immediate future, a degree in data science can make you a more effective health information management professional. By building a solid foundation in computer science and applications, communication, modeling, statistics, analytics and math, those with a working knowledge of data science are able to:
- Collect and report on complex data
- Communicate findings to both business and IT leaders
- Apply data to business problems
5 data science skills that directly apply to HIM jobs
The following data science skills are particularly helpful for individuals currently working in health information management:
- Data warehousing. Health information management professionals can use data warehousing skills to collect, clean, and prepare data stored in the electronic health record and various other electronic systems. Being able to evaluate data in terms of its source, volume, frequency, and flow is an important part of ensuring effective health information exchange.
- Big data computing. Health information management professionals can use big data computing skills to answer important questions, such as: How can the organization reduce readmissions or prevent hospitalizations? What is the root cause of certain denials? Can the organization justify expanding a particular service line? Should it join an Accountable Care Organization or purchase a physician practice?
A recent study by MGI and the McKinsey Global Institute found that there will be four to five million jobs in the United States requiring data analysis skills by 2018. The report also found that the healthcare sector could create more than $300 billion in value annually if it were to use big data to creatively and effectively drive efficiency and quality. The ability to perform big data computing puts health information management professionals at the forefront of the big data revolution.
- Data communication. Health information management professionals can use data communication skills to educate decision makers about the nature, structure, and interpretation of coded data, including ICD-9 versus ICD-10 as well as a whole host of other clinical and non-clinical data.
- Data mining. Knowledge of data mining can benefit health information management professionals who frequently generate reports necessary for clinical and operational improvement. Accessing and analyzing unstructured data helps health information management professionals create a more well-rounded and insightful clinical picture.
- Data science ethics. Being able to discuss the privacy, intellectual property, security, and integrity of data is an important aspect of data management, release, and exchange in an increasingly electronic health information management environment. Those who are well-trained in the ethics of data science can contribute intelligently to these types of conversations and drive change within their organizations.
Choosing a data science master’s degree
Although a master’s degree in data science may be costly, health information management professionals may find that online options are more affordable and easier to integrate into an already busy schedule. Getting a master’s degree in data science will invariably help health information management professionals tackle these ongoing challenges within the industry:
- Raise awareness of the intersection between health information management and big data
- Justify a seat at the decision-making table
- Capitalize on the power of big data in the electronic health record
Is a master’s degree in data science right for you? Click here to learn more.
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