Addressing Disparities in Health Equity: The Role of Advanced Data Sharing Technology and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

5 minute read

In today’s rapidly expanding healthcare technology space, it’s easy to assume that cutting-edge technology is universally accessible. However, the reality is far from that. Disparities in health equity are fueled because advanced technology is not evenly distributed across healthcare settings. Achieving health equity goes beyond merely treating all patients the same; it involves providing access to data-sharing technology throughout the entire healthcare ecosystem. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the role of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) in influencing health outcomes. This article explores the intersection of technology and SDOH, emphasizing the importance of addressing these disparities to improve healthcare for all.

SDOH encompass the physical and social environments in which individuals live, work, and play. These factors profoundly impact health outcomes and include elements such as access to nutritious meals, transportation for medical appointments, literacy and education levels, and freedom from domestic violence. These non-clinical factors play a significant role in an individual’s overall health and well-being.

SDOH disparities are a critical factor contributing to health disparities. Individuals facing economic hardships may struggle to access nutritious food or afford transportation to medical appointments. Those with limited education may have difficulty understanding complex care plans or making informed health decisions. Individuals living in unsafe environments may experience heightened stress and vulnerability due to violent environments, leading to poor health and well-being outcomes.

A July 2022 study evaluated more than 300,000 hospitalized patients, of which 11% were readmitted after 30 days. The study found that readmitted patients were more likely to have individual-level SDOH challenges and/or were more likely to reside in communities with poor SDOH conditions.

By 2024, CMS is requiring all hospitals screen for risk factors for SDOH. A common form and questionnaire will create more structure for identifying risk factors before a patient is discharged. 

While hospital systems may have case managers facilitating risk surveys and navigating SDOH services upon discharge, many post-acute providers don’t. Providers want to treat patients holistically including social risk factors, but the reality is that many physicians don’t have the time or ability to find local resources or follow-up. 

A March 2022 survey of 1,500 physicians by The Physicians Foundation found that 6 in 10 feel they don’t have adequate resources to address SDOH. A top challenge cited by respondents was an insufficient workforce to navigate patients to community resources. More than three-quarters also said there are either not enough community resources or there is not enough information on how to access them and no staff for follow-up.

Bridging the Gap: Technology Solutions for Seamless SDOH Data Integration

Despite the importance of closing the loop, studies show that many organizations don’t have the capability. A recent AHIMA survey, for example, found that less than 64% of respondents said they had a closed loop referral process that included a process to track whether the patient used the resource.

Addressing disparities in health equity requires not only identifying social risk factors but also efficiently sharing this crucial information across healthcare and social service organizations. While many hospitals have EHRs that can share structured data within their networks, SDOH care settings often rely on paper-based systems, fax, and portals, leading to data fragmentation and inefficiencies. 

The Gravity Project, initiated by CMS in 2017, aims to create data standards for SDOH information exchange. The Gravity Project recognizes the need for standardized data sharing in the realm of SDOH. It seeks to define SDOH information in a manner that can be documented and exchanged across diverse digital health and human services platforms. While the project holds great promise for the future, the lack of immediate standards poses a challenge for organizations striving to provide timely and effective SDOH support.

Technology solutions like Consensus Clarity and Conductor that exist today offer a bridge to streamline SDOH data integration, ensuring that patients receive the support they need seamlessly.

Use Case: Streamlining SDOH Data Integration

Consider a scenario where a patient is being discharged from a large hospital and requires meal assistance and transportation to physician offices which were identified in an SDOH risk factor survey. 

Here’s how Consensus technology solutions can facilitate the process: The hospital creates an order for SDOH services upon discharge. If the receiving agency does not have an EHR that can consume this data, the hospital can use Consensus eFax with Consensus Clarity AI to extract patient demographics, the order details and even handwriting such as urgent. The data can then be automatically mapped into the SDOH agencies portal streamlining this referral and leading to faster delivery of services. 

When data needs to be returned to the hospital’s EHR, the SDOH agency only needs to send an eFax back to the hospital. Combined with Clarity and Conductor for translation to structured data standards, the fax document can then be sent with all the right data fields mapped to the hospital EHR documenting the services delivered and patient compliance.  This round-trip referral process is seamless, saves time for data entry, reduces errors and creates a more complete longitudinal patient record. This example use case can be scaled across diverse healthcare and social services organizations. 

By combining these technological advancements with a comprehensive understanding of SDOH, healthcare providers can create more personalized and effective care plans, ultimately working toward a healthcare system that promotes health equity for all, regardless of their social and economic circumstances. Achieving this goal is not only a moral imperative but also an essential step toward improving the overall health and well-being of our society.