A Day in the Life of a Clinical Data Analyst

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Every day, health organizations like hospitals, clinics, and physician offices collect data about their patients. This information is used to make data-driven decisions in order to provide the highest level of care to their patients as well as reduce expenses and errors. From the outcome of a particular treatment to a large-scale clinical trial, health data is a critical part of the modern healthcare process.

Accessing data and making sense of it can be an arduous process for busy administrators. It is essential for them to have skilled clinical data analysts to help them. Clinical data analysts make sense of the extensive data at their fingertips, creating stories that turn numbers into actionable intelligence to improve healthcare issues. 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 adequately analyzed.

Some clinical data analysts may work in hospitals, health insurance companies, or even health software companies. Others may work directly with clinicians working on clinical trials. Most clinical data analysts have completed at least a bachelor’s degree in health information management, biology, chemistry, or computer science. While a master’s degree isn’t required, it can help candidates stand out when applying for jobs or looking to advance within a company.

According to PayScale (2021), the average salary for a clinical data analyst is $69,743 per year. The top 90 percent of earners can make more than $89,000 per year, while the lowest 10 percent earn $49,000. Clinical data managers, who manage teams of analysts, have higher wages with an average salary of $77,421 per year.

The day-to-day work of clinical data analysts can be very repetitive or change frequently based on their place of employment and job responsibilities. Continue reading to learn what a day in the life of a clinical data analyst looks like.

Work Environment of Clinical Data Analysts

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. However, they are not always stuck at a desk. They can expect to be part of a larger team and participate in regular meetings, in addition to spending time working alone.

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. Because analysts do not have patient contact, clinicians can help them understand what limitations they face 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 of Clinical Data Analysts

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 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 data visualization tools to help tell a story about their findings. This allows people who are not necessarily data-literate to understand what the analyst has found in the data. 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 regarding 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. Clinical data analysts who work in this type of setting can expect to manage and monitor data collection and report 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. Sometimes they may even alter how data is being collected or make requests for more data based on what they find in their analysis.

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, clinical trial 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 trial clinicians and administrators.

Required Skills and Knowledge of Clinical Data Analysts

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 clinical data analysis career.

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:

While not required, the AHIMA highly recommends that applicants have three years of experience in health data, particularly in analysis, acquisition, management, interpretation, and reporting.

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. The exam costs $259 for AHIMA members and $329 for non-members. The three-and-a-half-hour exam has between 130 and 160 multiple-choice questions. Topics covered in this exam include business needs assessment, data acquisition and management, data analysis, data interpretation and reporting, and data governance.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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