1. Hughes, Ronda PhD, MHS, RN, FAAN

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Q I'm not a statistician or a finance wizard; why should I want to use data more than I have to?


With even a passive mention of data, you can see the look of fear, disdain, and several other emotions in the faces of some leaders. It doesn't have to be this way, especially for nurses. Nurses learn many terms and techniques in nursing school that are used with data and data analysis. As part of bedside practice, nurses use, interpret, and track changes in patient data, from something as simple as BP or lab values to the overall status of a patient. Nurses learn to sense that something is right or wrong based on their "gut" or intuition, even when challenged with opposing evidence. Nurse leaders can elevate that ability to a higher level using aggregate data to understand, verify, and quantify how care should be provided to optimize resources and track outcomes across patients.


Leaders are expected to make timely, accurate, and consistent decisions. Understanding and using data to determine valuable information is at the core of decision-making. Leaders can and should make decisions using the different types of available data as a vital component of finding solutions to problems, making a strong argument for change, and knowing what works and where there are areas of opportunity across a unit and an organization. Using data to inform decision-making can help nurse leaders in their role responsibilities to proactively plan next steps and future directions.


Statistical vs. clinical vs. operational significance

Quality data help tell the story. Fundamentally, analyzing data is about finding patterns, correlations, and divergence. These patterns and correlations provide insights and support possible conclusions. Combined with other factors, such as history, internal and external factors, and available resources, data can help frame and communicate the context of the current situation and provide the basis to apply evidence to improve practice and outcomes. That said, not everyone understands or optimally uses data.


Using data well requires seeing it through the different lenses across a team and across an organization. For example, a 1.85% reduction in preventable hospital readmissions may not be considered statistically significant, but clinically, that could mean hundreds of patients who weren't rehospitalized after they were discharged home. Operationally that could mean lower staffing needs and fewer overtime hours to help staff a unit within budget.


AONL leadership competencies

Data are integrated throughout the six domains within the AONL Nurse Leader Core Competencies.1 Learning how to use and analyze data starts with the foundation of the Leader Within, where learning new things (such as data analysis techniques) is part of the process of expanding foundational thinking and enabling professional accountability. Under Professionalism, data can be used to advocate for patients and staff and to improve organizational outcomes. Data inform Communication and Relationship Management by helping to build trust with others and sharing information to better understand impact. Building upon one's Knowledge of the Health Care Environment, data help illuminate potential correlations among internal and external factors of care delivery and inform needed practice changes. Nurse leaders need the right Business Skills and Principles, which include financial acumen and using data to accomplish goals and make decisions, to be successful in their roles. And nurses need to exemplify Leadership by effectively analyzing problems and driving solutions.


Opportunities to gain skills and knowledge

If using and understanding data aren't your strengths, there are numerous options to learn more about data science and finance skills. Professional development programs, courses, online videos, and peer-reviewed journal articles can help you focus on changing attitudes and knowledge about data and data analytics; illustrate the benefits of analytics and data-based decision-making; and stimulate demand for data, analytics, and related technology to support data management and analyses. All nurse leaders can use data for everyday operations, to inform innovative approaches to transform healthcare, and to prepare for future opportunities and challenges.




1. American Organization for Nursing Leadership. AONL Nurse Leader Core Competencies. 2022. [Context Link]