Why data governance is critical to healthcare integration success

June 26, 2023

When it comes to modern hospitals, data is key to optimised operation. Every day, these unique, bustling organisations continuously create, process and use massive volumes of data about everything from patient medical histories, through to bed availability, staff workflows and wheelchair location. 

In fact, The World Economic Forum has estimated the average hospital produces at least 50 petabytes of data each year. For context, one petabyte is 1,000 terabytes or the equivalent of 500 billion pages of standard printed text! 

And yet, despite the sheer volume of data being produced each year, it is widely accepted that approximately 80 percent of healthcare data is unstructured – it needs to be organised to be effectively used – which means the advantages it offers are often lost.

But even when structured and made accessible, data must also be reliable in order to actually be useful – healthcare providers need to feel confident they can trust the data being presented to them. 

Data governance plays an extremely important role in ensuring data is kept up-to-date, and it is of a high standard – that it can be relied upon to be accurate. Notably, though, just as structuring data and making it usable in healthcare is not always a top priority, robust, best-practice data governance is also often overlooked. 

As healthcare settings continue to evolve, and they embrace integration to bring their systems and devices together, they will have access to even greater volumes of data that can be made easily available through purpose-built applications – but will that data actually be reliable, and what happens if it’s not?


Understanding Data Governance

According to The American Health Information Management Association, data governance is known as “clearly defined procedures and plans that [assure] the availability, integrity, security, and usability of the structured and unstructured data of an organisation”. 

In addition, when referencing data governance, management consulting firm Gartner notes the importance of “[ensuring] the appropriate behaviour in the valuation, creation, consumption and control of data and analytics”. 

As the name suggests, data governance ultimately ‘governs’ how data is obtained, used and stored, and is essential in any organisation – including hospitals and other healthcare settings – that can benefit from reliable data. 

As well as increasing reliability and accuracy, it is also a key driver of productivity, with McKinsey’s Global Data Transformation Survey confirming that across industries, employees spend vast amounts of time on tasks that don’t add value, simply due to poor data quality and availability. 


Estimated % of total employee time on non-value add tasks

Though a focus on corporate or organisational governance has been on trend for decades, with an extra boost over the last ten years as the ESG buzz has arisen, and policy relating to information governance and privacy has been an absolute necessity, the concept of best practice digital data governance is still relatively new. 

With data now created and moving in such extreme volumes, developing clear, practical and effective policies to govern it can seem like an impossible and insurmountable task. 

Despite this, the continued growth of data availability in hospitals and almost any organisation is inevitable, and in order to protect organisations, staff, patients and other stakeholders, robust governance is a priority. 


The Importance of Combining Integration with Data Governance 

While the integration of healthcare systems and devices is undoubtedly a positive on many fronts – security, management, reliability, longevity – and the increased data availability has undeniable benefits, it also comes with inherent risks. 

The sheer availability of data does not automatically translate into effective decision-making or improved patient care. In fact, without purpose-built apps in place to translate it into useful and bite-sized pieces, and governance and safeguards in place to ensure its accuracy, having access to vast amounts of data may create a false sense of confidence, leading to potential risks. 

The significance of data governance lies in its ability to ensure data privacy, security, and ethical use, thereby allowing hospitals to take advantage of the true and full potential of integrated systems, and delivering tangible benefits to patients and healthcare providers alike. 

Data quality is also a critical piece of this puzzle. Hospitals can have all the data in the world, but if the data isn’t up to standard and therefore complete – for example, it is missing important information, there are duplicate inputs, or staff don’t know how to access or use the data to its full potential – it’s of questionable value to anyone. 

Without best-practice data governance in place, the integration of high volumes of data can lead to various challenges. One major concern is the risk of data inaccuracies and inconsistencies. When data from various sources is merged without adequate governance, errors can occur and compromise the integrity of the integrated dataset. This can result in incorrect diagnoses, inappropriate treatment decisions, and potential harm to patients. 

Additionally, the absence of robust data governance opens the door to privacy breaches and unauthorised access. Sensitive patient information, such as medical records and personal identifiers, could be compromised, leading to identity theft or other forms of malicious exploitation. 

In contrast, when data is both integrated from a range of sources and data governance is in place, both clinical and operational teams have a much more accurate and complete picture of any situation, and can securely and confidently make better decisions, and also automate responses to streamline tasks.


Implementing Data Governance

Perhaps one of the main reasons data governance is not always best practice in organisations, healthcare and otherwise, is because it is not easy to implement. 

To get it right, key stakeholders in complex organisations must spend considerable time planning and collaborating with SMEs to ensure the policies they implement drive accuracy, security, compliance, usefulness and usability, and further time determining how buy-in will be achieved business-wide. 

This project often includes multiple significant steps:


  1. Understanding the current state

This will include a deep analysis of the hospitals’ existing data management practices and technology landscape, documenting how data is collected, stored and used.

  1. Understanding requirements

In hospital settings, like in many industries, compliance is a key concern, so identifying and exploring everything from regulatory requirements, through to privacy, security and accessibility will be an important early step. In complex organisations with vast volumes of data, and the need to build and then scale data governance, this understanding also informs the classification of data by how critical or even how high-risk it is. 


  1. Setting expectations

With all of the above in mind, the data governance working group can then determine the vision for their policies and the goals they aim to achieve. These will align with the hospital’s strategic goals and support the hospital’s ability to meet them. By this stage, it is imperative the group has achieved senior leadership buy-in, and some senior leaders are involved in it. 


  1. Developing the policies

This is the most cumbersome step in developing data governance, as it requires research, legal and security advice, input from experts in technology, and a strong understanding (likely through further consultation and collaboration) of how people in all different roles need to use data – how they do their jobs and also how that work and their conditions could be improved. 

Policies will cover an array of areas, from data collection and storage, through to access and permission levels, security, quality and compliance. Within each, requirements need to be well-defined and clear to avoid ambiguity and error, and to ensure every person who collects, stores and uses data knows their responsibilities. 

This step may also include investigating possible software solutions to support best-practice data governance, and working with internal teams and consultants to consider its implementation. 


  1. Get everyone on board

The data governance policy will impact literally every employee who works within the hospital, whether top surgeons or hygiene teams. For this reason, communication, education and training not only needs to be inclusive of everyone, but it also needs to be frequent, not just done once at induction and never repeated. Creating a data culture within the organisation is important for generating a workforce that is excited about utilising data for good.  


  1. Review, audit and repeat!

Like staff training, the policies themselves are not set and forget. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, the law, though often much slower, is also evolving. Scheduling regular audits and reviews of the organisational data governance program will ensure it remains best practice, as the world changes around it. 


Increased volumes of data can have a tremendous impact on hospitals, but whether that is negative or positive depends on how the data is brought together from right across the organisation, and how its collection, storage and use is governed. 

To further discuss technology integration in hospitals, reach out to our expert team