Researchers at UCSF describe the emergence of a new field dedicated to better integrating and supporting the clinical use of social determinants of health data.
As the pandemic shines a harsh light on healthcare disparities – with COVID-19 affecting poor, minority and underserved communities to a significantly disproportionate degree – more attention has been focused on social determinants of health, and how health systems and community groups can better address them to keep these people safe and healthy.
But a major challenge with SDOH information, as has been long documented, appears in the difficulties with managing these different data types and integrating them into clinical care.
In a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, “A Call for Social Informatics,” researchers from the University of California, San Francisco describe the challenges and opportunities for a proposed new discipline of health data innovation, and show how it can be formalized into a new domain of study.
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Various medical organizations – American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Association of Community Health Centers to name just two – have come out in favor screening patients for SDOH. And federal agencies such as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT have thrown their support behind efforts to boost technology systems’ ability to integrate SDOH data.
But a broader and more concentrated effort is needed to build momentum, said UCSF researchers.
The good news is there’s no shortage of hugely useful socioeconomic data with which to work.
“While data on social conditions, such as lack of access to adequate food, housing, and transportation, may be obtained during clinical encounters, they can also be derived from nonclinical sources such as local and national government datasets,” the researchers explain. “Once these data are incorporated into the healthcare system, they facilitate the NASEM report’s recommendation of increasing the health sector’s awareness of social risks of patients and populations.”
The challenge has more to do with the shape and structure of these critical data points, and the inadequacy of most systems and processes to accommodate them.
“Regardless of their source, social data are neither uniformly collected nor commonly captured in EHRs in a structured format,” according to the report. “As the availability of social data rapidly increases in response to new policy and payment models that incentivize these different awareness strategies, there will be new opportunities to integrate these data into EHRs and implement social care interventions that address identified risks.”
And since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency, those risks have been borne, to a disproportionate extent, by those with the most SDOH challenges, as this tweet thread from University of St. Andrews infectious disease researcher Muge Cevik shows:
Source: Healthcare it News