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Data Culture: Improving Data Literacy In Healthcare Organizations

Organizations committed to the human experience in healthcare must ensure that they have data-literate leaders in all areas of the institution. Leaders who are data literate are confident in using data and empowered to use it strategically, tactically, and operationally. Here are some best practices that hospitals can implement to better empower their workforce to work with data more effectively.

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Healthcare experienced tremendous changes since 2020. Organizations are still putting together the pieces as they emerge with staffing issues, high rates of burnout, financial challenges, and overall erosion of public trust of healthcare in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data has clearly been an asset during this time to help informed organizations make resource decisions. And data will be a key lever to use as we continue to pick up the fragmented pieces of the human experience in healthcare. Data can be an incredibly useful tool…assuming everyone has the ability to use it. However, healthcare leaders’ abilities to understand, analyze, make informed decisions from, and effectively communicate with data are not keeping pace with their expectations to do so.

This article offers some best practices for hospitals and healthcare organizations to build a data culture that supports data-driven decision making for patient experience leaders. Data literacy in healthcare organizations is part of the future state of patient experience.


Along with other changes in healthcare since 2020 has been the growing change in how leaders are expected to work with data. Data is growing by leaps and bounds. Healthcare leaders are facing the daunting challenge of organizing, understanding, and ultimately gleaning insights from the vast amount of data being collected.

Over the next few years, the world is expected to produce data at a phenomenal rate.

According to an article in Statista the total amount of data reached 64.2 zettabytes in 2020 and is expected to grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025. One zettabyte is approximately equal to 1,000 exabytes or 1 billion terabytes.

However, the growth in demand and expectation of data literacy skills is far and fast outpacing the offering, availability, and facilitation of data literacy skills for non-technical leaders.


Most organizations are not actively equipping their workforce with data literacy skills. In a report published last year by Forrester, in a paper commissioned by the data visualization giant Tableau, one of the key findings unscored this disparity. While 82% of decision makers say that they expect at least a basic data literacy from all employees in their department, only 40% of employees say their organization has provided data skills they're expected to have. That same study shows that when training is offered, it is typically offered to those in traditional data roles. Clearly there is a gap in leader expectations of data literacy and access to training.

As healthcare organizations handle larger volumes of data, they need to ensure that they are producing valuable data. While enterprise solutions may exist to do this at a technical level, the real insights from data come with the subject matter expertise and domain knowledge that gets layered with the numbers. Organizations need to introduce a culture of data across every department from Volunteer Services to Administration, not just within traditional analyst teams.

Healthcare leaders in supply chain, HR, volunteer administration, patient experience, philanthropy, etc. also need to gain fluency in the primary data-language of business. While marketing departments and HR departments may have historically hired department specific analysts, the reality is that a data culture needs to be enterprise wide and not relegated to a few key people distributed throughout the organization.

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In order to improve data literacy, it’s important that the institution’s leadership understand that they will be expected to make data-driven decisions. Healthcare experience leaders are expected to extract meaningful insights from the varying data points presented to them in the board room, the annual report, the Press Ganey report emails, and the CFO presentation at department leadership.

That means a data mindset needs to be embraced by leadership, and there should be actionable data literacy goals for all levels of leadership where data-driven decision making is ultimately expected. If a healthcare experience leader is expected to understand, analyze, make decisions from, and communicate insights from the data, then the organization needs to foster a culture that supports intellectual curiosity, innovation, and an iterative nature.

Related: Data Storytime For Volunteers: A Low-Tech Process Improvement

Healthcare organizations wanting to increase data literacy should create consistent goals that are tied to the data. If all healthcare leadership is speaking the same language of data, they will be more driven to embrace that mindset in pursuit of the common goal.

Healthcare organizations can take this even further by tying analytics and data-driven decisions into their strategic goals. For example, if “improving the patient experience” is a strategic driver for the hospital, leadership should look at specific analytics-driven initiatives to help achieve that goal. Those goals should be further broken down into actionable Key Performance Indicator's (KPI), or similar, for each department leader. Healthy data literacy starts with knowing what needs to measured and why.


Having a shared understanding of the basic language of the data is a first step. Different roles within the healthcare organization talk about the data in different ways. Just like any language, data fluency varies as each user’s interaction with it brings them into differing levels of granularity needed for understanding. An organization should consider their foundational data language needs as a starting point for data literacy.

Establishing common definitions across departments and facilities is often more challenging than it should be. Even agreeing on the term “patient bed” appears to be data point that leaders find difficult to articulate confidently across facilities. At a recent conference, I experienced something that was not new. When colleagues were asked to identify their institution bed size in their introduction, many struggled to articulate the answer because there are nuances to the answer. The bed question is one example of not having a shared definition.

Once definitions are agreed upon, they should be shared across the organization. And used. Definitions should be reviewed and updated routinely so that they don’t get outdated or forgotten about. Once people are confident they understand one another as they talk about data the same way as their peers, they will be more confident making decisions from that data.


In order for leaders to become data literate they need access to data and they need access to business intelligence tools and software.

Leaders should be provided with access to data but in a relevant way. Without context, people won’t use the data if it is not presented to them in a way that is meaningful to their role. Often, there is an all or nothing choice. An organization might provide full and open access to a database, or they might allow the IT suite to determine the access that a leader has based on title; in either instance, the access is not beneficial without considering different users’ roles, data literacy, and business objectives.

In addition to data access, a data literate workforce needs access to organizational tools. If the enterprise has an ‘enterprise solution’, make it available to leaders in every department. Doing so will also identify the data-savvy leaders For the organizational tools that are provided, including the widely available Excel, provide access to resources for leaders to gain proficiency.


Data is a language and needs to be nurtured as such as a training topic. Imagine taking a 2-hour course in Italian and then handed a report the next week to read. Language should be immersive and part of the fabric of the daily life of the organization.

While a 2-or 4- hour workshop would jump start a knowledge base great for shared-meaning, ongoing structured development activities can build a data culture.

Healthcare organizations can do this in a couple of different ways.


First, they should look for those individuals outside of the IT suite who are a little more data savvy than others and involve them in peer-to-peer training efforts. These leaders can be technical resources for peers throughout the organization. Organizations should provide opportunities for peers to share their knowledge with others.


Second, organizations should seek to provide ongoing training that meets users where they are through a combination of lessons, short tutorials, and hands-on project work.

Providing time and support for additional professional development for those who want it is a wise investment to extend organizational capacity in building a data literate organization.

Whomever is conducting the training should make sure the environment is one where people can comfortably ask questions and receive guidance if they are not understanding the data. A supportive communication environment is essential to building a data culture throughout the organization. Every individual needs to be met where they are so they can receive the right support and feel comfortable navigating data.

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Healthcare organizations should apply the same data-driven framework to their own workforce data literacy efforts that are applied to other experience initiatives.

A data-driven organization needs to take the time to assess and define their data literacy goals prior to launching professional development. Understanding the exact needs of your leaders will provide a more effective educational offering. Goal setting for data literacy also includes knowing what “success” will look and sound like to the learners. Operationalize and measure that in addition to the quantitative factors such as session attendees or resource users per day, week, month, etc.


Data can provide meaningful insights to healthcare experience leaders. Insights that drive change in meaningful ways. To advance the patient experience in healthcare, leaders throughout the hospital need to be able to work confidently with data. Improving healthcare data literacy skills is essential, as expectations to use data outpace access to training. Developing a data culture is an essential strategy for the future state of healthcare patient experience leaders.

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Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and volunteer leaders everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.



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