Healthcare leverages partnerships, social needs data to address COVID-19

For instance, during the first surge of COVID-19 Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center relied on longtime partnerships with community organizations to help deploy mobile units in disadvantaged communities. The mobile sites offered COVID-19 testing, masks and hand sanitizer.

“In each of these efforts it’s about working with the local community on establishing trust,” said Dr. Harold Paz, CEO of Wexner Medical Center.

Wexner’s relationship with community partners will help when COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins, Paz added. The industry is focused on ensuring minority and low-income populations have access to the vaccine, but Paz said some may be hesitant to take it if there isn’t a solid, trusted relationship between the health system and the community.

Community health organizations are eager to partner with health systems on addressing social determinants of health. “There is no competition here, we are all about the same thing, and we want to work with you, but you have to invite us in,” said Suzanne McCormick, U.S. president of the not-for-profit charitable coalition United Way Worldwide.

Acquiring social determinants of health data is another area where healthcare organizations should be on the lookout for partners, said Marc Gourevitch, chair of the public health department at NYU Langone Health.

“There really is a tremendous wealth of data that others have assembled … one can cover a lot of ground by picking up the phone and assessing what is already out there,” he said.

For instance, a risk predictor tool for Type 2 diabetes and lead exposure developed by AllianceChicago, a consortium of federally qualified health centers, used data from the YMCA and other social service organizations, rather than just healthcare.

“It broadens the scope of the diversity of data that could be used to power the analytics,” said Andrew Hamilton, chief informatics officer of AllianceChicago.

Social risk factor data is being used by California officials to decide what COVID-19 restrictions should be in place at the county and state levels.

California has created an index that factors in 25 measures related to social needs such as education, transportation, environment and socio-economic status. A county can’t reopen certain business activities until the test positivity rate for those in areas with high social needs is similar to the rest of the county.

“COVID doesn’t respect census boundaries,” said Dr. Alice Hm Chen, deputy secretary of policy and planning at the California Health and Human Services Agency.

Despite how helpful social needs data has been as the industry responds to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s still flawed.

Data is usually outdated—often two to three years old—and not specific enough to allow providers and health plans to drill down to individual populations in counties, said Eric Hunter, CEO of managed-care plan CareOregon.

Additionally, it’s far too difficult to share data from public entities and private ones, said Janet Hamilton, deputy director of Portland, Ore.-based not-for-profit Project Access NOW.

“We have so many data silos that are preventing people from doing effective care coordination,” she said.

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