The United States is in a healthcare equity crisis, so much so, that in 2020, the American Medical Association (AMA) Board acknowledged that racism is a public health threat. In response, the organization developed a three-year strategy to improve health equity in the United States. (To learn more about health equity and the AMA strategy, visit AMA Center for Health Equity.)
This week, HIMSS is hosting a Global Health Equity Week to highlight the important role organizations face in dismantling the systems that have perpetuated this problem. To celebrate this imperative initiative, we—Optimum—will point out the vital role healthcare IT plays in improving equity access and outcomes across patient populations.
In today’s healthcare model, technology plays a central role in delivering healthcare. It follows logic, then, that technology is at the center of solving the healthcare inequity crisis in the United States. The good news—most healthcare organizations have already made a significant, first-step investment in eradicating this problem: their EHR system.
EHRs provide a treasure trove of data for health organizations. When combined with demographic insights, this data can provide a lens into some areas of disparate health outcomes by population. Stephen Lockhart, the Chief Medical Officer at Sutter Health in California, led the development of the nation’s first health equity index (HEI), a metric for identifying and quantifying inequity within healthcare. The HEI metric uses real-time EHR data in addition to external demographics to identify inequitable outcomes.
In “Piloting and Scaling a Good Health Equity Evidence Base From Big Data,” featured in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Lockhart writes: “…Inequity underscores how both direct racism and unconscious racial bias create dangerous—even deadly—variation in health service delivery.” Lockhart later continues that, “We are at a turning point in the history of health care: big data and advanced analytic capacity enable precision approaches to improving health outcomes for everyone.”
However, data alone is worthless. At the core of addressing equity is a need for more advanced analysis of the data and a robust IT strategy to act on that information. But, are you asking the right IT-specific questions to combat inequity in your organization? Here are a few to consider:
- Have you turned on critical data points? Do you track food insecurity, socio-economic status, and other predictors of health outcomes?
- Are you using the full capability of your EHR and ERP systems? Are they working in a collaborative fashion that enables data sharing across platforms?
- Are you using your technology tools, such as CRM and Healthy Planet, to assess patient population access to care, use of care, follow-up communication, and experience?
- Have you considered add-on capabilities that put technology in the hands of patients who need better access? i.e., CommunityConnect
- Does your IT department reflect the diversity of the patient populations you serve? AI, analytics, and algorithms are fraught with racial biases. To ensure quality analysis of your data, you require widespread perspectives.
- Do you have an Equity task force? If so, is your IT department included?
These are easy questions to ask, but challenging to solve. As IT continues to drive healthcare, they will become even more pressing. To ensure you are continually asking these questions, Optimum is here to help.
We recently developed the Optimum CareerPath service offering, a proactive talent IT strategy that brings highly qualified and diverse talent to healthcare organizations. It addresses the problem in the fifth question above. The first three OCP classes were 68% minority and 39% female, which brings hospitals the exact kind of broad diversification necessary for improving equity. If even algorithms and data can be fraught with bias, then we need to address the inclusion and diversity of IT teams as a first-step strategy.
In closing, data is empowering. By having the evidence at hand, healthcare organizations can—and should—be held accountable for care across all of their patient populations. Through technology, we can empower leaders to identify inequalities, address bias, and make the critical changes required to improve healthcare, a basic human right, for all.
Reach out to your Optimum Sales Rep today for a discussion on technology-enabling strategies to improve equity.