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Brie Hilgers, Inside Sales Representative

Health equity hinges on healthy data

Virtually every healthcare organization is embarking on initiatives aimed at improving health equity— and for good reason. Health disparities amount to approximately $93 billion on excess medical care costs and $42 billion on lost productivity per year, according to a study by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum.  

But what is health equity? What’s driving health equity initiatives? What’s required to improve health equity?  

In this blog, we’ll explain what health equity is and why access to clean, actionable data is a cornerstone of any healthy equity strategy. 

We’ll also cover three aspects of health data that leaders of healthcare organizations should consider when investing in health equity initiatives: 

  • Data integration 
  • Identity data 
  • Terminology 

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What is health equity? 

What’s the difference between health equality and health equity, and why does the difference matter? 

What role do social determinants of health play in health equity? 

Which types of healthcare organizations focus on health equity initiatives?

What role does health data play in health equity? 

How does semantic data impact health equity? 

How does patient identity data impact health equity? 

What are some health equity initiatives happening in the health IT environment? 

How can Rhapsody support your health equity initiatives? 

What is health equity? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” Health equity acknowledges that different populations face different barriers to optimal health — including race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, and geography — and works to reduce the disparity in health outcomes. 

Several factors are driving health equity initiatives. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing healthcare spending and costs, federal funding allocated toward health equity efforts, and investment in innovative technologies and infrastructure to support health equity initiatives. 

Healthy data is a requirement for addressing health equity and eliminating the barriers that many marginalized communities face in getting the healthcare they need. Healthcare organizations cannot begin to solve health inequity without addressing the data problem, which we’ll address later in this blog post. 

What’s the difference between health equality and health equity, and why does the difference matter? 

Health equality gives everyone the same support to access healthcare, whereas health equity acknowledges that different populations face different barriers to achieving healthy outcomes. Health equity works to eliminate those barriers. 

“Though health equality and health equity both strive to achieve better outcomes and access to health care services, they are not the same. Equality refers to equal access for everyone, while equity aims to adjust resources for disadvantaged groups to truly create an even playing field,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

What role do social determinants of health play in health equity? 

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are environmental factors outside of healthcare that affect a person’s health, such as where a person lives, their income, and their level of education. The World Health Organization explains that 30% to 55% of health outcomes are related to and contributed to by social determinants of health. SDOH can lead to differences and variances in health status and distribution of health resources.  

Since most organizations have an incomplete picture of this information for their patient populations, leveraging demographic, access to care, community help resources, and economic data are the foundation for addressing social determinants toward improved care. 

Which types of healthcare organizations focus on health equity initiatives?

Virtually every type of healthcare organization is looking for ways to improve health equity, including healthcare systems, healthcare IT vendors, payers (private & Medicare/Medicaid), government/public health and health information exchanges, and community leaders and advocates.  

Focus on health equity initiatives has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), in 2019 25% of survey respondents ranked health equity among their top three concerns, compared to 58% in 2021, highlighting the need for attention and energy around health equity initiatives.   

What role does health data play in health equity? 

Access to clean and actionable data is key to all health equity initiatives. Capabilities like data integration, patient matching, aggregation, normalization of terminology, data enrichment, and deduplication enable healthcare leaders to more accurately evaluate the social, economic, and physical environments that impact a person’s health.  

Healthcare organizations cannot begin to address health inequity without first solving the data problem. Because so many data sources are fragmented, lack industry standards, and are self-reported, data sets contain duplicate records, formatting errors, incorrect patient information, or unstructured terminology — delaying progress on health equity initiatives. 

How does semantic data impact health equity? 

Without proper terminology management, healthcare organizations lack clarity about the data they are accessing and aggregating. Terminology management organizes, maps, and groups data so that it can be shared with semantic meaning across systems and organizations. It gives organizations full control of managing their standard, custom, and local code sets and subsets including mappings that ensure standardization for use across multiple systems. 

Terminology management ensures that healthcare data is displayed in the appropriate terminology to be understood across organizations, systems, and practitioners — reducing misunderstandings or errors. 

How does patient identity data impact health equity? 

Accurate patient identity allows providers to have a complete view of the whole patient, enhancing patient centered care, and caring for patients with SDOH in mind. Top barriers in healthcare systems that are preventing healthcare organizations from addressing health equity are interoperability related, and accurate EHR patient data is one piece of the puzzle. 

Enriching accurate EHR patient data with SDOH and identity information management supports patients by giving healthcare organizations the context to reach at-risk individuals, anticipate outbreaks and ensure equitable outcomes.  

The accuracy of patient records is vital to proactive analytics, contract tracing, and outreach efforts. This enables healthcare providers to match a patient’s medical records to additional data about them (like SDOH) to provide a view of the whole patient, leading to better patient care, reducing negative health outcomes, and ensure equitable outcomes. Complete patient data allows for better aggregation and analytics to better population health data. 

What are some health equity initiatives happening in the health IT environment? 

There are a number of health equity initiatives occurring in the health IT environment that are key to be aware of as health equity rises as a top priority to address: 

  • Sync for Social Needs: This initiative is aimed at developing consensus on standards and piloting real-world testing of an HL7 FHIR-based approach for the collection and sharing of social needs screening results to meet upcoming Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) program requirements. 
  • ONC’s Health Equity by Design: Equity is a core design feature of health IT endeavors. With this effort from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, policies, projects, and technologies, are evaluated through the lens of equitable health care access, treatment, and outcomes. 
  • The HL7 Gravity Project ; The project is a national public-private collaborative developing, testing, and implementing consensus-based social determinants of health (SDOH) data standards for use across the health, social services, public health, and research sectors. 
  • CMS Framework for Health Equity | CMS; The framework outlines five priorities that inform CMS’s efforts for the next ten years and how the CMS may operationalize each priority to achieve health equity and eliminate disparities. Each priority area reflects a key area in which CMS stakeholders from communities that are underserved and disadvantaged express that CMS action is needed and critical to advancing health equity. 
  • Most Recent Techquity for Health Coalition: Mission to assimilate health equity considerations into healthcare technology innovation and data practices across the industry. 

How can Rhapsody support your health equity initiatives? 

The Rhapsody Interoperability Suite helps healthcare organizations reliably connect, classify, and clean data. Healthcare organizations trust Rhapsody health solutions for top-ranked HL7 and API integration capabilities; identity capabilities, including a proven, best-of-breed Enterprise Master Person Index EMPI and Provider Registry; and terminology management, featuring a combined terminology solution, authoring tool and FHIR terminology service.   

Ready to talk about how we can support your health equity strategies? Connect with an interoperability expert now.  

Learn more about how you can steward healthy data in your organization by accessing these resources:

Guide: Be a champion for healthy data

A how-to guide for promoting healthy data throughout healthcare delivery organizations 

On-demand webinar: Be a champion for healthy data 

Watch an on-demand webinar about how Rhapsody health solutions customers and partners rely on healthy data to drive healthier outcomes. 

Guide: Know your people

Learn the risks of inaccurate or duplicate patient records and how healthcare leaders can strengthen their data foundation with a next-generation enterprise master person index.

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