Using data to work effectively toward health equity

The COVID-19 crisis has shed light on – and worsened – existing health inequities in the United States, particularly for Black and Latinx people.  

Many health equity advocates have pointed to the important role data plays in addressing that inequity, noting that it is challenging to fix a problem about which we have no information.  

But Kellie Goodson, director of performance improvement programs at Vizient, says all data collection isn’t equally useful in this regard.  

“Healthcare is all about data,” she told Healthcare IT News. “But what we do with the data is we aggregate the data in basically everything.”

That aggregation, she says, can disguise important differences in the way vulnerable people and groups access care.   

“What we need to do in all our healthcare systems is we need to disaggregate the data and find out who those vulnerable patients are – and we need to examine our processes, and make adjustments to them, and make sure they’re working for all vulnerable populations,” she said.  

Goodson points to a few success stories of when healthcare systems examined data through the lens of specific patient populations.  

For instance, one Seattle-based health system noticed that patients were often showing up for colonoscopies not properly prepped.   

“Then you have to cancel, and you’re missing revenue and missing efficiency,” she said – as well as delaying patient care. When the system disaggregated the data by language, the staff found that Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking patients had high rates of showing up without proper preparation. 

“They started offering prep classes and materials in Spanish and Vietnamese, and their rates of improvement and success shot way up,” Goodson said.  

Goodson noted that these changes don’t require complex actions, but they can have enormous results.  

“I have not yet come across an intervention that was incredibly complicated,” she said.

“When you’re thinking about quality improvement, and your patients and their lives, especially considering the structural racism that has been around for centuries,” these kinds of data-driven decisions make a huge impact, she said.  

“When you do specific work to help your most vulnerable patients, you end up improving outcomes for all of your patients,” she said. “That’s been proven over and over.”  

Goodson, who is presenting at HIMSS21, hopes attendees walk away from her session with the idea that “perfect” does not need to be the enemy of “good,” especially when it comes to data.

“Find the data that’s directionally correct,” she advised. “This is not 30,000-foot-level theory stuff, this is ‘Go back to your organization with tools to make a change'” material, she said.

Kellie Goodson and co-presenter Dr. Knitasha Washington are scheduled to present at HIMSS21 on Tuesday, August 10, in Venetian-Murano 3201A.  


Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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