A Day in the Life of a Clinical Data Analyst

Clinical data analysts help to make sense of the extensive data that is at their fingertips, creating stories that turn numbers into actionable intelligence to improve healthcare issues. Every day, health organizations like hospitals, clinics, and physician offices collect data about their patients. From the outcome of a particular treatment to a large-scale clinical trial, health data is a critical part of the modern healthcare process.

Clinical data analysts can have other titles, such as health data analyst, among others. These trained professionals work with clinicians and health administrators to ensure that data is effectively collected and properly analyzed.

Work Environment

Clinical data analysts work across a range of healthcare environments but are most often employed by hospitals, health insurance companies, and software development companies. Additionally, clinical data analysts may be exclusively hired within the context of clinical trials to ensure the use of good clinical practices (GCP) and clinical data management practices (GCDMP).

Clinical data analysts do not come into direct contact with patients and therefore should expect to spend most of their time in a standard office or laboratory setting rather than in a clinical setting.

Clinical Analytics Team

Clinical data analysts typically work with others, but the makeup of their team will depend largely on where they are employed. In a hospital setting, it may be common for analysts to work in tandem with clinicians. Analysts do not have patient contact, so clinicians can help them to understand what limitations they are facing in their data collection and determine where to spend their time most effectively.

In a health insurance company or software development environment, data analysts are not likely to come into contact with clinicians. Instead, analysts in these types of positions will work with data managers, software developers, and administrative staff to glean actionable insights from data.

Typical Daily Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a clinical data analyst are also highly dependent on where they are employed. Although the end goal of any clinical data analyst is to use data to solve healthcare and business problems, those who work in a healthcare facility or in the clinical trial environment may have moderately different day-to-day experiences.

Healthcare Data Analyst

Clinical data analysts who work in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or physician’s group, are tasked with optimizing that facility’s data. In a broad sense, this means helping to collect, store, retrieve, analyze, and present the data that the facility collects.

Although data analysts do not have direct patient contact, they do deal with patient information, most often in the form of electronic health records (EHR). On a daily basis, data analysts may have to work within the facility’s EHR software to generate reports based on collected patient data.

With data in hand, analysts use their problem-solving skills to assess how their facility can better serve its patients. They often use techniques like data visualization tools to help tell a story about the findings from the data to people who are not necessarily data-literate. The ultimate goal of this data analysis is to improve patient experiences while increasing a facility’s efficiencies.

In addition to critical data analysis tasks, analysts may also be expected to act as technology administrators for EHR or other data collection software. They help clinicians and other staff troubleshoot technology issues and regularly interface with hospital staff and administrators in regards to their findings.

Clinical Trial Data Analyst

Clinical trials are the cornerstone of determining whether pharmaceuticals or medical devices are effective and safe for patients. These trials require a considerable amount of data collection and analysis and clinical data analysts who work in this type of setting can expect to be charged with managing and monitoring data collection and reporting their findings to the clinical trial staff and administrators.

Depending on their level of expertise and the scope of the project, a clinical data analyst may also be responsible for the development of specialized software and data collection methods specific to the trial.

In the case of a clinical trial, data analysts regularly review data that is being collected in the clinical setting to ensure that it is accurate. Similar to those in the healthcare setting, data analysts are also expected to compile and present regular reports about the data they find and translate the data into actionable intelligence for the trail clinicians and administrators.

Required Skills and Knowledge

The title “data analyst” may be off-putting to some, but the reality is that extensive mathematics and computer programming knowledge are not necessarily required. Instead, the most successful clinical data analysts are those who like to uncover the story behind the numbers. Some computer programming is typically required within the data analysis tools used by these professionals, but extensive computer science knowledge is not vital.

A degree in health information management or health informatics can be helpful when pursuing this career. Those with experience in healthcare and clinical knowledge can do well in this position. Nurses, medical coders, and others who have already worked with healthcare data have a solid foundation for a future career in clinical data analysis.

Apart from specific training, clinical data analysts should have analytical and detail-oriented minds. Perhaps most importantly, a data analyst should be interested in solving complex problems and willing to see in-depth analyses through to the end.

Communication skills are also essential in this role, since presenting complex data in a digestible way is an integral part of the job.

Clinical Data Analyst Certification

Although certification is not a legal requirement of working clinical data analysts, it can provide a powerful differentiator for those looking for employment or career advancement.

The Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) credential from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is the most common credential for these professionals. In most cases, data analysts will apply for this certification when they have gained some experience in the field and are looking to further their career prospects.

To sit for the CHDA exam and earn the certification, applicants must have completed one of the following pathways:

  • The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential and three years of healthcare data experience
  • The Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential
  • An undergraduate degree and three years of healthcare data experience
  • A master’s degree in health information management or health informatics from an accredited program
  • A master’s degree or higher and a minimum of one year of health data experience

In addition to meeting these requirements, potential CHDA applicants must submit an application and exam fee. Once their application is approved, they have four months to sit for the exam.

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