Using Data to Improve Communities' Well-being

February 26, 2021
MHE Staff

Data sharing in healthcare has unlocked more potential to use information and analytics to work toward addressing disparities and achieving health equity in care.

Data sharing in healthcare has unlocked more potential to use information and analytics to work toward addressing disparities and achieving health equity in care.

Panelists at the WEDI Quest for Health Equity event recently noted it's important to reinforce the relationship between public health and medicine, according to a report.

"In terms of interoperability, technology [and] data, there may be a new conversation, but it's important for us to incorporate some of that work that's been going on for many decades," said Kenyetta Jackson, health equity manager, health solutions, at the American Medical Association, in a report. "It's important for us to be partnering with some of those equity champions," Jackson added.

According to Melissa Kotrys, CEO at the Health Current health information exchange, examining social determinants of health has been an issue for decades.

"How can we get access to the information we need to make a difference?" Kotrys said for the health and well-being of those in need. "I think the sky's the limit when it comes to how we can use … data to identify what barriers are, what challenges are, what gaps are and how we can fill those."

Kotrys highlighted the disconnect she sees in data sharing among county, state and federal governments – made particularly stark amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

"We always have to keep an eye toward: What is that outcome we are trying to achieve and what is it we are trying to advance?" she said. "And making sure policy decisions are in alignment with that."

Jackson recalls when there have been health crises in the past, the federal reserve has been helpful in providing coordination in response.

"Where there are state-level governments that have great models, those models can be spotlighted and used to develop guidance at the federal level."

Dr. Deborah Duran, senior advisor for data science analytics and systems at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, agreed that making change without adequate information will be challenging.

"I work with a lot of federal data, and what's happening is the data doesn't have key variables for us at the local level, state level, county level," said Duran. "Even today, there still aren't states that are collecting race and ethnicity data on COVID vaccines and cases."

According to the report, the lack of information can make it more difficult to acknowledge and address gaps in care. However, Duran noted technology is not inherently neutral in addressing these gaps as decision-makers rely more heavily on machine learning and analytics. She said healthcare professionals must be aware of both their own biases and those that might be baked into the system.

"When the machine is able to learn how to give us analytics, it also presents a whole other layer of confounding issues that makes biases more prevalent, and potentially can lead to more health disparities," Duran said.

"When there's an opportunity to make more money, the marginalized group challenged by health equity gets more marginalized," she added.

It's important to find a balance between the urgency to address social equity and how work with data, Jackson said.