- As the healthcare industry continues its slow and steady shift to holistic care, more organizations are beginning to understand that they must integrate socioeconomic data into their analytics and population health management initiatives.
The conditions in which individuals live, work, and play have a profound effect on patients’ wellbeing, and recognizing the impact of these factors can help providers tailor prevention and treatment plans.
As organizations work to close gaps in preventive care and reduce disparities between different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, complete and accurate socioeconomic data will become increasingly important. . Stakeholders often don’t have access to these critical datasets, and this deficit is exacerbated when it comes to minority and underserved patient populations.
Failing to access this information, as well as other data about community-level challenges, can prevent providers from delivering meaningful care to minority patients, Amy M. Andrade, MS, assistant vice president of research at Meharry Medical College and founding director of Meharry Medical College’s Data Science Institute, told HealthITAnalytics.com.
“National standards of care are largely based on Caucasian patient data,” she said.
“However, this information isn’t applicable to all patients, and we can’t rely on that information alone to care for our diverse populations, which may respond differently to various treatments.”
To help overcome these challenges, Meharry has launched a new Data Science Institute, which will leverage socioeconomic data to improve health outcomes for diverse patients.
“The Data Science Institute will accelerate treatment and discovery for poor and minority populations by giving researchers new insight into the health challenges they face,” Andrade said.
“The Institute is powered by an ever-growing database of more than 3.5 million medical and dental records from 200,000 unique patients, which will give researchers access to a wealth of information about underserved populations and allow them to discover common threads among diseases that disproportionately impact minority and poor patient populations.”
The database tracks health and environmental data at the neighborhood level, including air quality metrics, crime statistics, access to affordable housing, and availability of grocery stores. The database will also be updated in real time, allowing researchers to regularly correlate links between patients’ health and their environments.
The Institute will initially conduct research on diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular disease – chronic diseases that significantly affect minority and underserved populations, both within Meharry’s network and beyond.
“Most of our patients have a diagnosis in these areas,” Andrade said. “Nineteen percent of the total patient population seen by the Meharry Health network in the last five years has been diagnosed with either hypertension or diabetes, and in the last two years, the number of patients seen with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes has risen 16 percent.”
“The Institute’s database will help our researchers identify and understand patterns in social and environmental triggers for these chronic diseases, and ultimately inform recommendations and solutions to address them,” she explained.
Meharry researchers will use their insights and apply predictive analytics approaches to identify patients at high risk of developing these conditions, and to inform clinicians’ treatment decisions.
The new Institute will add to Meharry’s legacy of improving care for underserved and minority patients. The organization is the nation’s largest private, independent, historically black academic health center. In addition to enhancing patient care, Meharry is committed to educating minority health professionals and contributing to the diversity of the health professions workforce.
Going forward, the Institute plans to release quarterly research papers on its findings and recommendations, and the facility will host at least one annual conference to support new areas of study at Meharry.
Additionally, the Institute will conduct Meharry’s first Data Science Service class in the 2019-20 academic year. The new course will support Meharry’s mission to enrich student education with innovative research and health practices, Andrade said.
“Students will develop core skills to understand the impact of big data on their individual disciplines and use this data and its implications to inform their work,” she explained.
“We’re not seeking to train a new generation of data scientists. This is about helping the next generation of doctors understand how data science can inform the care they provide to their patients.”
The launch of the new Data Science Institute will help Meharry Medical College leverage real-time socioeconomic data to improve patient health outcomes.
“The Institute is groundbreaking for underserved communities because it allows researchers to tailor and improve standards of care for minority patient populations,” Andrade said.
“We believe that health is not just the absence of disease – it is important to understand and track the everyday social and environmental factors that impact our wellbeing. By identifying patterns and trends in this data, we can ultimately improve and tailor our clinical protocols.”