New Graduate Program to Train Health Care Data Scientists

St. Louis, Missouri, Sept. 15, 2015 — Saint Louis University Center for Health Outcomes Research (SLUCOR) has announced a new graduate program for training data scientists in the healthcare industry. The Healthcare Data Science program will serve working professionals with an educational background and/or experience in science, engineering, computing, mathematics, nursing or public health.

“Data scientists are among the most in-demand employees in the healthcare industry,” said Thomas Burroughs, Ph.D., professor and executive director of SLUCOR. “Although the health care system is creating an unprecedented amount of digital data today, leaders are struggling to turn ‘big data’ into usable information to improve patient care and health system efficiency. Data scientists are a key to transforming the healthcare industry.”

Saint Louis University’s program in Healthcare Data Science is taught by faculty from the Center for Health Outcomes Research (SLUCOR), an innovative team that has specialized in analysis of large datasets since it was founded in 2003.

“SLUCOR has led major funded research for improving the quality of medical care across the United States by focusing on ‘big data’ before anyone used that buzzword,” said Philip Alderson, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs. “The new Healthcare Data Science program is an opportunity to leverage SLUCOR’s expertise and experience to train tomorrow’s leaders in health care.”

The SLUCOR faculty includes nine primary members and 21 affiliate faculty members who are trained in statistics, research methodology, analytics, data management, economics, public health and a variety of medical subspecialties. SLUCOR faculty members have extensive experience working across the healthcare industry, including hospitals, medical groups, health plans and pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

CURRICULUM FOR PART-TIME PROFESSIONALS FOCUSES ON TECHNICAL SKILLS AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Students in the Healthcare Data Science program will develop expertise in the unique types of healthcare data, such as administrative claims, pharmacy-dispensed medications, clinical laboratory tests, and electronic medical records. The curriculum builds skills in software programming, database management, and predictive analytics within the context of contemporary healthcare issues, such as privacy protection, consent and data use agreements. The program helps students develop their curiosity and leadership to understand complex healthcare data and ask key questions that will contribute to effectiveness and value.

Students can complete the Master of Science degree in as few as two years. The curriculum consists of nine courses and a capstone project, for a total of 30 credit hours. Some courses use full-day sessions on alternating weekends; other courses are available fully online to make participation as convenient as possible.

“This program is unique,” said associate professor Paula Buchanan, Ph.D., MPH, who provides consulting services to faculty across the School of Medicine. “Unlike traditional academic approaches to statistics or computer science, the curriculum focuses on the fundamentals needed to clean, manage, manipulate and analyze ‘big data’ to address major issues in the health care system.”

Students will learn a variety of the major languages of modern database management and analytics with specific applications for patient care and public health.

“We are excited to provide students with state-of-the-art information technology with which they can learn the new tools, systems and skills of data science,” said David Hakanson, vice president and CIO for Saint Louis University.

Data science refers to large, diverse, complex, longitudinal, and distributed data sets generated from a variety of sources. While several institutions have in recent years established master’s programs in analytics, SLUCOR offers a program specialized in health care built for part-time students. It is one of just a few anywhere in the United States and the only in the Midwest. The Healthcare Data Science program welcomes students from a variety of educational backgrounds who seek career-changing skills and expertise.

BUILT FOR UNIVERSITY COLLABORATION
The Healthcare Data Science expands Saint Louis University’s other offerings in the growing fields of data analysis and management for health care and medical science.

“Saint Louis University now offers a full continuum of graduate education in data science – ranging from genetic to clinical data,” said Leslie Hinyard, Ph.D., MSW, associate director of Academic Affairs and assistant director for Interprofessional Education and Research. “SLUCOR is pleased to collaborate with other colleges, schools and departments to build national awareness, recruit students, coordinate coursework and develop research initiatives.”
In addition to SLUCOR’s new Master of Science in Healthcare Data Science, Saint Louis University offers a Master of Science in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (College of Arts & Sciences), Bachelor and Master of Science in Health Informatics and Information Management (Doisy College of Allied Health Professions), and Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Information Systems (School for Professional Studies). Different professional roles and responsibilities are addressed by each of the programs.

RESPONDING TO CHANGES IN HEALTH CARE AND MARKET DEMANDS
“The program addresses an important and growing demand for skilled professionals with ‘big data’ expertise to assist health care systems with reducing costs, improving safety, and managing population health,” said Eric Westhus, Ph.D., program director and assistant professor with appointments in SLUCOR and the Department of Family and Community Medicine. A survey by HealthLeaders Media survey projects about 80 percent of health systems will use data analytics to predict and monitor population health by 2018.

“Data scientists will be supporting strategic and operational decisions of health systems through their ability to make sense of complex, dynamic data in real-time,” said Steven J. Meurer, MBA/MHA, Ph.D. “There is a clear need and significant role for analytics in high quality health care organizations dedicated to performance improvement.”

Meurer, senior vice president at United Health Consortium, is a Saint Louis University alumnus (Ph.D. ’05) and member of the SLUCOR National Advisory Council. He advises senior leaders of academic medical centers using analyses generated from a multi-terabyte database of operational indicators, financial transactions, and clinical outcomes. Employers are looking for professional with a balance between technical skills and full understanding of the context for analysis methods and results.

APPLICATION PROCESS
Saint Louis University is now accepting applications for the inaugural class of graduate students in Healthcare Data Science. The first class will begin in January 2016, but some students will be considered for an early start in August 2015 depending on their qualifications. Applications materials are available at slucor.slu.edu.

Prospective students are encouraged to contact program director Eric Westhus, Ph.D. (ewesthus@slu.edu, 314-977-9300), to discuss career goals and the program’s potential to support their personal and professional development.

ABOUT SLUCOR
Established in 2002, the Saint Louis University Center for Health Outcomes Research (SLUCOR) is an interdisciplinary academic unit focused on the effectiveness and efficiency of health care. SLUCOR brings together expertise from the fields of health services research, medicine, psychology, epidemiology, computing, economics, and statistics to teach, mentor students and residents, conduct research, and advise health system leaders across the nation. Visit http://slucor.slu.edu.

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