By Jessica Kent, Health IT Analytics | June 27, 2019
Organizations will have to adopt ethical standards in order to effectively collect and address individuals’ social determinants of health data, according to a group of stakeholders led by the eHealth Initiative (eHI) Foundation.
Although the benefits of targeting the social determinants of health have become widely recognized, the industry still lacks clearly defined strategies on how to use this information to inform patient care.
The group, which included leaders from AHIMA, the American Cancer Society, Google Cloud, and LexisNexis Health Care, worked to outline how medical professionals can ethically leverage data related to the social determinants of health.
“Because of the sensitive nature of this consumer data, we felt it was critical to put a stake in the ground around the ethical use of this data,” said Jennifer Covich Bordenick, Chief Executive Officer, eHealth Initiative & Foundation.
“Lots of industry groups are publishing papers and producing research, but there is not a lot of direction about how to use this data. eHI’s diverse coalition of healthcare leaders believes there is a way to do this that improves health, protects consumers and promotes transparency.”
In a new document, eHI discusses five guiding principles to help the industry utilize social determinants data and improve patient outcomes.
Address clinical and non-clinical needs
Organizations that have access to individuals’ social determinants information can use this data to make informed care coordination decisions, eHI said.
Providers can deliver more holistic care by facilitating connections to additional services and resources that align with security and privacy protections.
“SDOH health data can lead to better care management and personalized care by providing a unique lens into the health and well-being of individuals,” the group wrote. “For instance, recognizing issues such as food insecurity, lack of transportation, and unsteady employment or housing, offers meaningful insights into circumstances that directly affect lives.”
Providers can partner with community health workers and other stakeholders to create personal care plans that combine medical and social needs.
Use data analytics tools to determine patient risk
Social determinants of health data can feed data analytics tools, like machine learning algorithms and predictive models, to forecast future health outcomes, eHI stated. Organizations can discover whether patients are at risk of hospital readmission or medication non-adherence, and then take appropriate actions to mitigate that risk.
Stakeholders will need to adopt standards for developing and deploying these models, the group added.
“In preparing a predictive model, it is important that the data used in algorithms ensure accuracy and relevance related to use cases,” eHI said.
“It is also important that choices made about modeling and analyzing data elements are free from bias. Standardization may be a means to help eliminate potential bias and discrimination.”
Identify available community resources
eHI recommended that stakeholders evaluate individuals’ social needs, and match those needs to services that can help close care gaps. Community workers can help organizations map existing resources to local populations privately and securely.
“Data can be used to identify resource gaps so new programs and interventions can be developed to adequately address population-level care obstacles,” the team wrote.
“Care should be taken to maintain confidentiality and privacy if any specific patient and health related data is mapped.”
Track health outcomes
Stakeholders will also need to evaluate the effect of social determinants interventions on patients, eHI said.
Providers, payers, and others should track interventions and their correlations to better health outcomes, especially when an intervention makes a positive impact on a patient’s social needs.
“There should be standard processes in place for tracking referral outcomes,” eHI said.
“These processes are needed to coordinate between social service organizations and healthcare stakeholders to evaluate and track results and make any necessary adjustment to the interventions.”
Involve patients and caregivers in care intervention plans
Designing care plans based on individuals’ social determinants should be a collaborative effort, eHI said. Providers, patients, caregivers, and others can jointly decide which services and interventions are the best fit.
“It is important to involve potentially impacted individuals in the discussion when SDOH is being used to improve their care,” the group stated.
“This includes educating individuals on how their SDOH impact their health, reviewing interventions and services available to help, and jointly agreeing on next steps.”
As the social determinants of health play an increasingly larger role in care delivery, it will be crucial for stakeholders to handle this data ethically and transparently to drive better outcomes.
“As an industry, we realize that improving the health of our communities and providing the right care plans depends on our ability to understand patients as people first—treating the person and addressing barriers to health, not just the disease,” said Josh Schoeller, Senior Vice President & General Manager, LexisNexis Health Care.