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AHIMA to tackle standardization of SDOH data

A new initiative will work on standardizing social determinants of health (SDOH) data for use in population health management.
By admin
Oct 18, 2023, 9:05 AM

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed serious gaps in access to equitable care and outcomes, the healthcare industry is now sharpening its focus on the social determinants of health (SDOH). The non-clinical factors related to how people live, work, and engage with their environment are known to be responsible for up to 80% of health outcomes. Yet the industry’s ability to collect and leverage standardized data on these influences is often poor at best. 

To combat this state of affairs, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is launching the new Data for Better Health initiative to “empower healthcare professionals working with SDOH data, thought leaders, policymakers, and the public with the knowledge and resources necessary to harness SDOH data to improve individual and community health,” the organization said in a press release. 

“To truly enhance health outcomes, AHIMA is committed to driving change within the healthcare industry, engaging consumers, shaping policy, and accelerating the use of SDOH data,” said AHIMA Board President/Chair Jennifer Mueller, MBA, RHIA, SHIMSS, FACHE, FAHIMA. “Our organization is committed to leading this transformative change nationally while our members act within their organizations and communities.”   

Through the program, AHIMA members will work to expand awareness of use cases for SDOH data across the care continuum and help advance strategies and policies designed to improve data standardization and analytics techniques to uncover insights that can translate into better experiences and better outcomes for individuals and populations. 

The initiative’s goals include raising awareness of the business case for integrating SDOH data into clinical care, educating and engaging with consumers to encourage the sharing of SDOH-related data with healthcare professionals, and working with policymakers and organizational leaders to support innovation and adoption of best practices across the industry. 

This type of enhanced collaboration will be crucial for improving the current state of the SDOH data landscape, in which organizations are struggling to collect data in a usable format, conduct meaningful analytics, and apply those lessons learned to the real world of patient care. 

A February 2023 survey from AHIMA and NORC at the University of Chicago revealed that while many providers are collecting some form of SDOH data from their patients, few are able to use it for actionable decision-making.  For example, while more than 90% of organizations ask their patients about mental health and health behaviors, just 60% consider the information integrated into the EHR. Only 48% have fully integrated data on housing security, and just 42% consider their food insecurity and transportation data to be integrated into the patient record in a meaningful way. 

Survey respondents pointed to insufficient staff education, coding barriers, and lack of organizational policy as reasons why SDOH data is not being used to its fullest.   

With more than 67,000 health information professional members around the world, AHIMA is well-positioned to take on the challenge of coordinating education around SDOH data and implementing effective new approaches to making sure non-clinical factors are routinely integrated into equitable, accessible care for all communities. 

While further details about the initiative are yet to be announced, healthcare organizations can get a head start on understanding and addressing SDOH data-related challenges with health information management resources from AHIMA and an extensive governance toolkit from the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) focused on SDOH interoperability and data exchange. 

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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