Nebraska Health Information Exchange Joins SDOH Data Group

The Nebraska statewide health information exchange got a social determinants of health (SDOH) data boost after joining the Gravity Project.

CyncHealth (formerly NEHII, or the Nebraska Health Information Initiative), the state’s health information exchange, has joined the Gravity Project, a community-led HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Accelerator, to enhance social determinants of health (SDOH) data interoperability across its platform.

The Gravity Project is a new community-led effort to develop national standards for SDOH data exchange. It aims to grow a diverse community of healthcare professionals to identify and review terminologies, conduct a gap analysis, and advance recommendations to address the disparities using nationally recognized data standards.

Health systems across the country are attempting to implement SDOH data into patient health records. Yet, most health systems face issues, such as interoperability, when trying to implement SDOH into their respective EHRs, meaning there isn’t a wealth of information about what healthcare can do with SDOH data.

Research shows that identifying and integrating patient SDOH data into the EHR is crucial to finding answers to significant health issues. Studies show this data accounts for 80 to 90 percent of individuals’ health.

Once identified, SDOH data can create opportunities to offer social services and interventions for high-risk individuals.

The Gravity Project initially focused on basic SDOH data, such as food insecurity, housing insecurity, and transportation insecurity. However, through its partnership with CyncHealth, the Gravity Project is expanding its coverage to financial strain, material hardship, stress, social isolation, and demographic attributes.

Founded by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network (SIREN) in 2018, the Gravity Project consists of over 1,000 healthcare stakeholders.

Its standardized codes ensure the use of patient data for enhanced patient care, along with understanding current needs and service gaps in the community. Standardized code development is becoming a prevalent topic among health IT leaders across the country.

"CyncHealth is proud to partner with the Gravity Project in this important domain of healthcare interoperability," said Jaime Bland, CyncHealth president and CEO. "Creating better data to address social needs helps reduce barriers and improve access to care, which ultimately improves the health of our communities."

The HIE said joining the Gravity Project closely aligns with the work it is doing with Unite Nebraska, a network of social services organizations. Unite Nebraska aims to connect health and social care providers to enhance coordination and delivery across the state.

Through Unite Nebraska, citizens across the state can access nutrition services, employment and benefits, and housing through community-based organizations. The two groups aim to break down existing barriers between clinical and social care providers, enabling them to provide care with trackable outcomes data.

"We are excited to partner with CyncHealth on advancing the work of the Gravity Project and accelerating the development of nationally recognized interoperability standards for social determinants of health,” said Evelyn Gallego, program manager for the Gravity Project. “The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need to address health disparities and individual's social needs.”

CyncHealth, which connects over 70 percent of providers in the state, has exchanged patient data between health facilities, pharmacists, urgent care providers, and emergency rooms.

"Now more than ever, health information exchange entities like CyncHealth play a critical role in facilitating interoperable data exchange between clinical settings that may first identify the social need and community-based organizations that help to address the social need," Gallego said.

In late December, the Gravity Project published a SDOH data and terminology implementation and recommendation guide with a focus on food insecurity, housing instability and quality, and transportation access.

With this publication, Gravity Project developed data elements and standards to gather, exchange, and utilize SDOH data across screening, diagnosis, planning, and intervention platforms.

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