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Improved SDOH Data Collection, Interoperability Needed for Health Equity

Panelists at an ONC Health Information Technology Advisory Committee (HITAC) hearing emphasized the need for standardized SDOH data collection and closed-loop referral processes to inform health equity efforts.

The industry must improve health data collection and interoperability to support health equity, according to expert panelists at an ONC Health Information Technology Advisory Committee (HITAC) hearing in March.

Accurate data collection is vital to understanding health inequities, measuring change, and evaluating system effects on individuals and populations. Critical categories for data collection include race, ethnicity, sex, language, disability status, and social determinants of health (SDOH).

Many panelists highlighted the need for standardized SDOH screening tools and uniform data standards adoption to support interoperability and research. Numerous experts also discussed the need to use standards for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to address health disparities.

Andrew Hamilton, chief informatics officer of AllianceChicago, noted the need for “tools to be responsive to a growing need for diversity across age, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, primary language, and other socioeconomic variables.”

Another key theme of the hearing was the need for closed-loop referral processes to allow clinicians to place referrals to social service providers, track progress, and follow up on patient outcomes.

The industry must focus on creating standards to support data sharing between the EHR, community-based organizations, and state health information exchanges (HIEs) while ensuring patient privacy, according to Denise Hines, DHA, PMP, FHIMSS, of the Georgia Health Information Network.

Angela Thomas, DrPH, MPH, MBA, vice president of healthcare delivery research at MedStar Health, pointed to a similar need for “seamless communication” between organizations providing prenatal and delivery care to mothers and infants.

Several panelists also presented the need for vendor-agnostic interoperability with and between smaller providers and community-based organizations. Others emphasized the challenges facing organizations that lack access to interoperable technology.

Robert Murry, PhD, MD, chief medical officer of NextGen Healthcare, recommended expanding access to interoperability tools to social service agencies, health departments, and other important health equity stakeholders.

Experts identified disparities in broadband access as a significant hurdle, particularly for residents in urban and rural areas as well as underserved racial and ethnic populations.

Panelists also highlighted the importance of considering digital literacy when developing new policies, services, and technologies to ensure that individuals can use the services and devices.

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