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A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Health Care Data Analyst

June 6, 2023

At this stage of the digital era, an enormous challenge for health care professionals is to figure out how to make use of the 2,000-plus exabytes of health care data collected (Stanford Medicine, 2017). That’s where health care data analysts come in. They utilize data analysis and visualization to identify health care trends—and because the types of data they interpret are so varied, the potential applications are equally diverse. 

To provide clarity on securing a career as a health care data analyst, it’s important to address some contextual questions that will help guide your future. Such a broad scope of outcomes begs questions like “Do I need a specialized education?” and “Where can health care data analysts work?” Explore how a program like the Online Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program at the University of Pittsburgh can prepare you for success in the field, from providing the necessary academic background to creating opportunities for gaining real-world experience.

What Does a Health Care Data Analyst Do?

A health care data analyst’s primary function is to identify health care trends through data analysis and visualization and then use the patterns to inform a list of action items targeted at increasing efficiency. The data they study can include anything from patient outcomes and clinical trials to cost reports and public health information. Accordingly, the underlying objective for a health care data analyst often aims to improve patient care, reduce business costs, provide more affordable treatments for specialized patient populations and streamline workflow.

It’s worth noting that their job function contrasts that of health care informaticists, who are charged with seeing these action items through to completion. Successful health care teams will employ analysts and informaticists in tandem—one role to direct improvement efforts and another to drive them. Programs like Pitt’s MSHI, which has four specialized tracks, can prepare you to be a qualified applicant for both roles.

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Where Do Health Care Data Analysts Work?

Thanks to the excess of health care information, you can expect a wide range of working environments where translating this data is crucial. Such settings include but are not limited to: hospitals, health insurance companies, health care consulting agencies, government health departments, clinical research offices and health care IT vendors. 

Your potential work environment will often dictate the type of data you handle and the practical applications of said data. For example, health care data analysts working at a health insurance company may find themselves examining cost reports with the end goal of providing more affordable care to patients while also creating a more efficient business model.

What Kind of Educational Background Do I Need?

Similar to other specialized jobs, health care data analysts are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree—though whether their educational background is medical- or data-related is less significant. But because the field lies at the intersection of medicine and technology, undergraduate degrees in health informatics, data science, health sciences, mathematics or information sciences are most common.

Earning a dedicated master’s in health informatics can help set you apart from other base-level candidates and may qualify you for more advanced positions. 

What Skills Do Successful Health Care Data Analysts Have?

Since the function of health care data analysts is primarily technical, successful health professionals should possess the following skills

  • Data mining and visualization 
  • Machine learning
  • Computer programming
  • Statistical analysis
  • Database management 

While having these skills is not necessarily a requirement to secure a job as a health care data analyst, those aspiring to the field should assess their current skill set to see if their strengths align, where they will need to improve, and whether they’re interested in developing those competencies through a degree program like Pitt’s MSHI.

How Easy Is It to Pivot into a Career as a Health Care Data Analyst?

Information-driven professionals who have a keen interest in harnessing data to direct actionable change may find a career in health care data analytics fulfilling. As such, analysts come from a variety of professional backgrounds, but people with broad experience in either medicine or data science will find the transition the easiest. 

Within those two fields, there is plenty of diversity. Frontline health care professionals like doctors and nurses seeking less emotionally exhausting jobs often pursue data analysis careers. Health care administrators interested in moving away from organizational leadership are also well suited to pivot into data analyst roles. 

Meanwhile, data scientists and computer programmers from any industry can rely on their technical skills while learning the intricacies of the health care system and its terminology. 

What Is a Health Care Data Analyst’s Earning Potential?

The average annual starting salary for a health care data analyst in the United States is $91,437 (ZipRecruiter, 2023). Closely related job titles like health data analyst and clinical data manager make average salaries of $79,302 and $106,552 (ZipRecruiter, 2023), respectively. Earning potential for these roles can vary widely, suggesting there are plenty of opportunities for advancement through upskilling through a master’s program. 

How Do I Become a Health Care Data Analyst?

  1. Obtain the necessary education. If you don’t already have a background in data science or analytics, consider applying to an online master’s program like Pitt’s MSHI. You can complete the coursework on your own time, allowing you to remain in the workforce while you upskill for a career change. The four available tracks allow those with prior health care or data experience to capitalize on their educational background while still exploring new skills. Explore our admissions criteria further to measure your compatibility with the online MSHI.
  2. Gain real-world experience. As a culmination of their coursework, Pitt MSHI students can choose to complete a capstone project that empowers them to apply their knowledge in a professional setting. Additionally, those interested in pursuing an internship while completing the degree program can do so, thanks to the flexible part-time curriculum.
  3. Familiarize yourself with health care IT tools, and master at least one. Whether that’s fluency in Python’s data processing capabilities or a particular Electronic Health Record (EHR) system, you’ll want to be able to claim proficiency in at least one specific health care IT tool. The more programs and applications you master, the more authority you’ll have as a health care data analyst—plus, it’ll make you an agile, competitive applicant for more senior roles. Note that Pitt’s MSHI does not require technical skills to apply, whereas other master’s programs may.  
  4. Build your analytics portfolio. Documenting your growth and experience in a way that can be easily shared with potential employers is an often overlooked step toward securing a job. It can be as simple as a presentation deck filled with past data visualizations and testimonials or as involved as a personal website with pages dedicated to individual projects. Career pivoters starting with a blank slate can take advantage of the applied learning opportunities through Pitt’s MSHI to give their portfolio a jumpstart. 
  5. Create a professional network that spans relevant industries. Health care data analysts are interdisciplinary by definition—successful analysts will ensure their professional networks follow suit. And since they’re technically intermediate employees, there should be significant advancement opportunities. That makes a robust web of connections even more important for future planning and landing higher-ranking managerial, directorial and executive positions.

Leverage Your Interests, Build Your Expertise

We live in the digital era, and health care companies are nearly drowning in staggering amounts of data. Where they used to be “nice to have,” a health care data analyst’s job function and the tools they harness are now an integral part of performing even the most basic business tasks—not to mention meeting a reasonable standard of care. That means health care data analysts are in high demand, and Pitt’s MSHI program can ensure you’re poised for success in the field. 

Note that while this guide is meant to be practical, it is not intended to be prescriptive. No two paths will look alike. Each health care data analyst should consider how their interests can direct their career trajectory before cultivating a portfolio and network that suits them accordingly. 

If you’re ready to take the first step toward a new career, we encourage you to reach out to a Pitt enrollment advisor via email to further discuss the Online MSHI program and application. In the meantime, explore the courses you can take as a Pitt master’s student and review our admissions requirements.

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