Chief data officers come to healthcare

A new C-suite role aims to 'leverage data as a strategic institutional asset'
By Mike Miliard
08:53 AM
Servers

As chief data officer at Seattle Children's Hospital, Eugene Kolker has a fairly unusual job title – especially for this industry. "In healthcare it's extremely, extremely rare," he says. But that may be changing.

[See also: Why should docs care about big data?]

"To my knowledge, I was one of the first couple" CDOs in healthcare, says Kolker, who took on that position at Seattle Children's way back in 2007.

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The position, sometimes called chief analytics officer or chief data scientist or chief digital officer, he says, is rare across all industries but is finding traction across finance, insurance and other industries where a bit of targeted knowledge could mean huge savings or profits that would otherwise go unrealized.

[See also: Big data doesn't have to be 'Star Wars']

In finance, at least, "it depends who you talk to, but it's said there are100-200 CDOs worldwide," says Kolker.

IBM has called the chief data officer the "new hero of big data and analytics."

While "historically, data strategy has resided within IT," the exigencies of a new financial landscape has forced industries of all types to recognize the "importance of data" as something "necessary and integral to business strategy and execution," writes Chris Nott, chief technology officer for big data and analytics at IBM UK.

Indeed, says Kolker, at Seattle Children's, "our deal is trying to leverage data as a strategic institutional asset. It's not about technology. It's not IT. It's about how to transform data into information, how to transform information into better-informed decisions."

Kolker has more than 25 years of experience in data analysis, predictive analytics, and algorithm development. At Seattle Children's, he and a team of data scientists look for new ways to approach and, hopefully, improve some five dozen subspecialties and inpatient, outpatient, emergency and multiple other services.

On Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Healthcare IT News Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum in Boston, Kolker will participate in a panel discussing the "Keys to Creating a Data Driven Organization." He'll offer his perspective on helping foster the sort of  organizational infrastructure that's key to driving data-driven decision-making.

Seattle Children's data strategy "has three parts, a troika," he says.

"One is, of course, data: data science, analytics, modeling." The second aims to use CDO to build the service internally. "Within our own walls, we act as internal consultants," says Kolker. "And that has actually worked, for the past few years, really well. For those who don’t hire CDO, you can use an external service provider as CDO.”

The third component, he says, "is people skills, social skills. That's extremely important."

The key to translating data-driven insights into changes in behavior is ensuring that those most impacted are treated as "collaborators," says Kolker – "working together toward some shared goal with clear outcomes."

It's not nearly enough "to take a problem and just go in your room and solve it," he says. It's critical to work alongside different stakeholders "to understand what their needs are, to recalibrate to see whether this is where we're going together."

When decision-makers have that sort of buy-in, "they have a much higher chance, much higher probability to say, 'You know what, this is what we did together, this is important, I believe in this, this is what we need to do.'"

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