Winning the war against a pandemic with data literacy

By Charlie Farah, Industry Solutions – Public Sector and Healthcare, Qlik
Thursday, 11 February, 2021

Winning the war against a pandemic with data literacy

The influx of data and information created by modern technologies and a record population growth rate is an overwhelming beast to tame. This is exactly what healthcare workers around the world are battling with as they meet unprecedented demand at the frontlines of the pandemic. With each day, new findings come to light — but for the average person, keeping up to date and digesting all this information is a mammoth task.

Healthcare workers are expected to eradicate a virus that has already exceeded 100 million cases whilst adapting to new working conditions. Reallocating resources, upskilling staff and administering treatment through virtual channels are placing immense pressure on healthcare organisations to make real-time, well-informed decisions based on accurate data.

As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic being declared, data has emerged as the lifeblood of the world’s effort to eliminate the coronavirus, from tracking hospital capacity to performing contact tracing. Though most hospitals and clinics have since become more adept at handling data, the next step is to take these learnings to maximise the potential of our resources and operations for long-term success and future mitigation efforts.

When humans and data don’t mix

Accelerating digital transformation initiatives across the healthcare industry has left workers with a lot of data. And this is good. Data has proven key to enabling organisations to become more productive and efficient, all while improving the standard of care for patients.

However, what raises my concern is that, according to the The Human Impact of Data Literacy report, 74% of global healthcare workers feel overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data. This figure means some are likely to avoid using data — a dangerous predisposition to have in this profession.

In the same report, it is revealed that data overload is costing Australian organisations approximately five working days per employee or $13.8 billion per year. Working with data shouldn’t be a negative experience; in fact, it should be making clinicians’ lives easier. That’s why upskilling employees’ data literacy skills so they can appropriately leverage data and available tools is one of the best investments that organisations can make.

When the Capital & Coast District Health Board took the initiative to implement a data analytics and literacy program, it realised the aforementioned benefits and more. As the organisation experienced high demand for its services, real-time data insights enabled it to more efficiently allocate resources. Its nurses and midwives who weren’t necessarily data-minded were upskilled by the data literacy program to make the most of data platforms. What followed was improved patient care and staff satisfaction, which only marked the beginning of the Capital & Coast District Health Board’s data journey.

Four ways that healthcare leaders can maximise their organisations’ data potential

  1. Provide employees with the tools they need. Invest in tools that simplify processes for staff and enable them to make the most of their data. Note that this means providing access to data tools that are appropriate to employees’ skill level and easily adopted.
  2. Build a roadmap. Create a data strategy to identify when and where investments should be made that support the organisation in achieving its objectives.
  3. Set the standard. Data literacy shouldn’t be a siloed skill. Leaders need to demonstrate the importance of data literacy in every role — from board to ward.
  4. A culture of re-evaluation. Transformation never truly ends. The workforce must conduct regular reassessments of their tools and strategies to improve.

The healthcare industry would benefit immensely from a data-literate workforce. In addition to being geared to make better data-driven decisions, employee satisfaction will follow suit. Not everyone needs to be a data scientist, or even be able to build queries or visualisations. However, everyone does need to be data literate at a baseline level, to make data-driven decisions and truly achieve value from the data assets at their disposal.

The right skills together with innovative digital technologies will enable the best use of data to drive efficiencies, improve services and empower healthcare workers to deliver the highest standard of patient care in Australia.

Image credit: © Planet Studio

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