Data's role in creating a more equitable health system

Data can often tell a story on its own and help providers figure out exactly what patients need. As the so-called “data revolution” continues to march on, it’s important to remember to include an array of demographic points, as well as social determinants of health data, in order to boost equity. 

“It is critically important for us to understand our patient populations and how data aligns with those characteristics so we can ensure that we are using the right data and it’s correct. One of the challenges is that when we talk about disparities people automatically go to race,” Knitasha Washington, resident and CEO of ATW Health Solutions, said today at HIMSS21. 

“In the context of how you are using data, whether it be white, Black, Asian [patients’], etc.: Who are in those subpopulations in each and every one of those groups that we also need to be concerned about? So it’s critical to find the groups we’re talking about and use data to direct us in terms of where problems and issues are.”

The speakers specified that equality and equity are different. Equity is about helping to close outcome gaps, whereas equality is providing all patients the same care. 

“The question becomes whether or not you have empowered or enabled your staff and clinicians … to really identify issues and to shift and deviate where appropriate so we can ensure that all people have the right or position to receive their best health outcome.” 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, health disparities were highlighted through data. Washington attributes that coming to light thanks to public health efforts and making data more transparent, things she encourages health plans to continue in the future. 

During the session, Kellie Goodson, director of Vizient, brought up the example of Harborview Medical Center. One of the data points that a center collected was the language spoken by the patients. When the organization was looking at colonoscopy metrics it was able to figure out that patients who spoke Spanish or Vietnamese were showing up for procedures improperly prepared. 

“They simply made the shifts to provide prep clinics in Vietnamese and Spanish, and now patients understood what they were supposed to do,” Goodson said. 

“That’s what we’re talking about when we are shifting resources. We aren’t taking them away from anybody. We are adding it for people who need it most.”


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