Healthcare & Life Sciences

Emergence of the healthcare CDO: 4 challenges to tackle

application development

UPDATED 11/16/18

This guest blog post by Rajib Ghosh, Chief Data, and Transformation Officer (CDO) at Community Health Center Network. He provides insight into the CDOs’ role and the key challenges they face within the Healthcare industry.

The healthcare industry is facing a massive data explosion. In response, digital leaders are adapting their organizational structures, processes, and technologies to keep up with industry change. This helps to capitalize on this valuable asset.

The emergence of the CDOs role

The role of a Chief Data Officer is not new. But the importance of the role has increased recently. IT shops of various organizations had roles like database developers and database administrators for a long time. The purpose of those roles was to support business units in storing, managing, and retrieving data as necessary. Then came roles like data analysts, data visualization experts, and finally data scientists.

Still, data responsibility and executive ownership for data were shared between Operations and IT functions. Traditionally, industries like finance, manufacturing, logistics, and pharmaceuticals have been at the forefront of using data to drive their strategic and operational decisions. They realized early on that data was an asset for their organizations, and that it needed to be managed like one. That caused them to create the executive role for owning organizational data of different kinds and using that data to craft organizational strategy.

Healthcare data came into play much later. Digitization in healthcare at a large scale happened only when the adoption of Electronic Health Record systems (EHR) became mainstream (Figure 1). In the beginning, most healthcare organizations were focused on data digitization–manual and automatic data capture using EHR, other Health IT applications, and interfaces. However, the lack of interoperability and liquidity ensured that the captured data remained silo-ed.

Timeline chart for the healthcare data

Figure 1

Back in 2017 (and beyond)

Healthcare organizations have come a long way since then. The concept of data as an asset has now sunk in with healthcare organizations of all sizes. Just like within other industry verticals, the role of Chief Data Officer has emerged in healthcare. Gartner predicts that most large organizations, healthcare included, will hire a CDO by 2019.

However, it also warned that only 50 percent of the CDOs will succeed in their role. Data has entered Boardroom discussions for driving strategy and execution. Data-driven decision making has permeated into the culture of many organizational hierarchies. In healthcare, with the rise of new risk-bearing organizational structures, like Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), we are seeing the increased importance of data aggregation in driving new revenue opportunities and uncovering hidden capabilities that can create operational excellence. This trend will continue to grow in 2017, regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill.

CDOs in 2017 (and beyond) will have FOUR major challenges to overcome:

  1. The role is relatively new in many organizations: The CDO role is relatively new, which means the job is not always well defined. There are still ambiguities regarding parts of the role being in operations or IT. New CDOs should pay extra attention to ensure they define the key performance indicators that align well with organizational priorities. Misunderstood expectations must be identified early and resolved. CDOs need to build bridges with the CIO and COO to implement technology solutions and an information management architecture to advance their objectives while improving operational excellence.
  2. Data Governance and Master Data Management (MDM) are still in their infancy in many healthcare organizations: This is not an attempt to generalize the issue. There are pioneer healthcare organizations in the field of data governance and MDM. But there are many organizations that lack the rigors of processes and organizational structure to implement data governance and MDM. Some organizations can cripple innovation and nimbleness with more governance and less flexibility. CDOs as the “Data Czars” need to implement data governance processes, policies, and master data management principles that will work within the organizational culture. While too much too soon can disrupt organizational performance, not addressing core issues about data governance and MDM can quickly erode the trust of the organization in the CDO role. It should be a delicate dance.
  3. CEOs and CFOs need to see results quickly to commit budget and resources: This is a conundrum in many organizations. While CEOs and CFOs believe that executive leadership for the data asset will produce value for the organization, CDOs will have to fight for sustained budget commitments to produce results. Harnessing and aggregating data from many sources using technology solutions will be the key to demonstrate value. It will also be quite expensive and therefore, the CDOs budget will compete with many other investment priorities. Depending on the complexity and maturity of the organization it can take several months, or even years sometimes, to produce ROI from data initiatives. CDOs therefore, have to focus on some low-hanging fruits to generate their boss’ trust in the value of his/her plans.
  4. Data Security and Privacy will continue to be key challenges: While some healthcare organizations have a separate data security officer to ensure patient data is protected from unauthorized access, use, and abuse. In many organizations, the role is split between the CIO and CDO, if they have the latter. When data is received from multiple sources for aggregation, it is important that appropriate measures are taken to prevent any unauthorized data access both internally and externally.

As healthcare organizations acknowledge that data is king and organizational maturity evolves the CDO role is expected to grow, not only in the U.S. but also in other countries. The growth of data in healthcare is also projected to continue rising at an alarming pace, and executive oversight along with a comprehensive data management strategy will be required to achieve the full potential of this key asset.

Watch this ON-DEMAND Webinar on “Best Practices for Accelerating Digital Transformation in Healthcare” and hear from a panel of healthcare industry experts as they discuss their experience driving digital transformation initiatives within their organizations, share best practices and predict what’s ahead.

Rajib Ghosh is an executive, entrepreneur, technology advisor, and columnist. He is the Chief Data and Transformation Officer at Community Health Center Network (CHCN), a risk-bearing Medi-Cal Managed Care organization based in Alameda County, California, where he is responsible for Data Analytics and digital technology-enabled transformation of the network. CHCN and its network of community health centers take care of more than 240,000 underserved patients in the East Bay area.