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What ‘big data’ can do for health care

What can “big data” do for health care? Plenty, says USC College of Nursing professor Ronda Hughes, who is working with her team of researchers and computer and data science specialists to improve decision-making and gain new knowledge that will enhance health care itself across all types of health care organizations.

Health care leaders and clinicians are pushing for the right analytic tools and better metrics to address the ever-changing health care environment. But if health care is to truly improve, Hughes says, nursing leaders and researchers must harness the depth and breadth of data, using techniques such as predictive analytics and machine learning. Every database, from insurance claims data to staffing data to readmissions data and population health data, is an opportunity to identify patterns, ideal outcomes and what needs to change.

While many decisions are made based on experience or gut feelings, the rapid growth in large databases throughout
health care is providing potential insight into how to improve delivery of health care services and population health. That
includes establishing a relational source of performance data, working with and giving feedback to decision makers in
real time, optimizing care delivery processes and providing coaching for decision makers to use data more effectively.

Through the new Excellence in Nursing Consortium, a partnership with hospitals in the state and region, health care
providers and health care organizations, Hughes and her team are working to make sense of data, creating a culture
of evidence-based decision making that brings the contributions of nurses to the forefront. The consortium will enable
interprofessional teams to bring findings from research and data to decision makers from the boardroom to the bedside.

Because health care teams are responsible for the quality and outcomes of health care, nursing — the nation’s largest
health profession — is at the core of health care transformation. When new protocols or requirements are initiated, it
is nurses who interface with and care for patients, ensure that all key steps are taken and gather data to assess and
demonstrate organizational performance. Hughes’ team is working with nurse leaders to strategically use data and
evidence-based tools to improve the nurse-patient interface and patient outcomes.

With more tools and better understanding of data, nurses can lead the health care team to realize needed changes
that bring society closer to improved systems and availability of health care that will help current and future patients.

This story was originally published in the Fall issue of the College of Nursing magazine.

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