Information Governance FAQs

Q: What is Information Governance?

A: Information Governance (IG) is a strategic approach to maximizing the value while mitigating the risks associated with creating, using, and sharing enterprise information. It recognizes that information is an organizational asset and as such requires high level coordination and oversight to assure accountability, integrity, appropriate preservation, and protection of enterprise information. The aim of IG is to break down silos and avoid fragmentation in the management of information so that it is trustworthy and that so that organizations experience a real return on the investments they make in the people, processes, and technology used to manage information.

There are many formal definitions of Information governance. AHIMA defines it as:

“An organization wide framework for managing information throughout its lifecycle and for supporting the organization’s strategy, operations, regulatory, legal, risk, and environmental requirements.”

Q: Why is Information Governance important?

A: Information is an essential resource in any business or organization, without which operations and running the business is not possible. Accordingly, investments are made in people, process, and technology to assure that information can support the business or enterprise. Because of the significant investments associated with creating, using, protecting and sharing information, information should be viewed as a type of organizational asset, not unlike the buildings, equipment and financial resources necessary to run the business. Oversight and stewardship of assets or resources is the aim of any type of governance and just like other assets, information requires governance to assure that the value and risks associated with it are addressed in a responsible way. Information governance provides a disciplined approach to managing the value and risks associated with information and its use. Because of the challenges currently faced in healthcare related to changes in care and payment models, new consumer expectations, requirements to partner with others, increased regulation, and the ongoing changes in technology, information governance is more important than ever before. It is the best way for health or health-related organizations to assure that information is reliable and can be trusted to meet all of these diverse needs.

Q. How is IG different from HIM/IM? Isn’t IG just a new buzzword for HIM?

A: In healthcare organizations, HIM professionals have always been charged with assuring the quality and availability of health records and information. They were and still are on the frontlines of creating and overseeing processes to assure consistency, completeness, disclosure, and protection of patient-related data, information and records. Their focus is/was on the operational management of information. However, HIM professionals also worked with stakeholders, creators, and users of health data, information and records to create policies and standards to guide this important information management work. This became even more essential as the information and records were transitioned to EHRs where standards and policies were frequently an afterthought and took second place to implementing the technology. So, in a very real sense, HIM professionals are engaged in a type of governance--EHR governance-- when they undertake these activities.

However, an important distinction between IG and from IM/HIM is that the focus of IG is enterprise or organization-wide. IG is concerned with all organizational information—not just patient-related records, data and information. Its goal is to eliminate fragmentation and break down silos with respect to the meaning, consistency in application of practices, and increase awareness and adherence to such policies and standards among all segments of the workforce and stakeholder groups for all types of information.

Some HIM professionals can play important leadership roles in IG because of their subject matter expertise in IM, but it is important to realize that IG is more strategic and it applies to all areas and types of information. Working to create enterprise policies and standards and approaching information issues in a way that aligns with organizational strategy is the focus of Information Governance.

Q: What is the difference between information governance (IG) and data governance (DG)?

A: Due to a new focus on analytics and “big data” to identify patterns in data and information for population health management and other approaches to health care transformation, many healthcare organizations are exploring or starting to develop data governance initiatives. These programs are aimed at assuring consistency and quality of data for clinical and business intelligence needs.

Many are using the terms ‘data governance’ and ‘information governance’ interchangeably but these two concepts are actually very different-- although closely related-- concepts. DG and IG are distinct in their focus, scope of activities, and reach. Data governance is primarily concerned with policies and strategies that address the creation and use of granular data as inputs into a system. Master data management, metadata management, data models, and enterprise data architecture are examples of data governance activities. Information Governance, however, is more concerned with the lifecycle management of this data and information, including its use, protection, and preservation. Examples include health information exchange, compliance audits, e-discovery, and information lifecycle management activities such as records management retention and long term preservation.

Because of the relationship between data and information, information cannot be governed if data are not governed. Therefore DG is an important domain within IG. Information governance provides the framework and accountabilities to support and promote data governance.

Q: What is an example of an area where my organization can benefit from IG?

A: Information Governance is taking hold in healthcare and many organizations are making significant progress. Information Governance and leveraging the organizations information assets has extraordinary value. Examples include:

  • Reduced costs associated with managing and finding information
  • Avoidance of costly data breaches
  • Enhanced analytics capabilities, including those necessary coordination of care and population health management
  • Better integration of information and its management in mergers and acquisitions
  • More effectively meeting compliance challenges
  • Increased workforce awareness and adherence to information policies
  • Alignment with and support of strategic goals and competitive advantage

Like other performance improvement initiatives, it is vitally important for any organization embarking on IG to define for itself the expected outcomes and plans and metrics for how it will achieve its goals. The IG program provides a framework for this.

Q: How do I get started?

A: If we bear in mind that we don’t do IG in a vacuum or IG for IG’s sake, and we remember the very essence of why we need good information in the first place, it may help things along. Organizations usually have a mission and vision that they carry out through developing business strategies that help to achieve their goals. Looking carefully at those business goals and strategies can give strong hints about how and where to start an IG initiative since almost no organizational goal can be achieved without good information. These opportunities likely involve identifying a “pain point”, a problem with information that needs addressing, or a business opportunity that enhances revenue or reduces costs. This is what we refer to as “strategic alignment” and means that IG needs to be part of a larger strategy t hat helps to achieve organizational goals. Those goals can be as varied as expanding service offerings or capacity through acquiring and integrating other healthcare providers or businesses, better management of space/real estate, creating new treatment protocols or reducing the costs associated with care for a patient population, or something entirely different.

When you start with this in mind, you have identified the perfect place to start your IG initiative. Figuring out how to support the organization’s strategic initiatives with good, solid data and information will ensure a strong start for an IG program.

Q: How can we create a sense of urgency for IG in our organization yet set this in a positive perspective?

A: Again, aligning the IG initiative with strategic goals helps to foster the appropriate tone and timing for starting on IG. While it is extremely important to “just get started” by identifying immediate needs or issues that can be addressed relatively quickly through governance process, it is also important to build a sustainable organizational framework for IG and this can take time depending on organizational culture, engagement of stakeholders, and available resources.

Q: How can we keep the momentum going and not just have this be another “flavor of the month”?

A: Education of organizational leaders and stakeholders about the objectives and purpose of IG are important in its sustainability. Once these are understood and value is demonstrated through achievement, IG will be easier to continue. Of course value must be demonstrated through metrics, balanced scorecards, and other reporting tools that help to describe the impact of IG.