How Unified Data Can Help Transform Public Health

John Bastin
Tue 4 Aug 2022
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“Healthcare is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.
” - C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General of the United States, 1982-1989

More than two decades after he made his midnight ride to warn the colonial militia that British soldiers were on the way, Paul Revere became the first public health officer in the United States. The year was 1799, and Boston, Massachusetts, established the first board of health and the first health department in the new nation and put Revere in charge.

More than 223 years later, there are nearly 3,000 county and local health departments in the United States, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The NACCHO directory shows 118 county and city health departments in Texas, 77 in Pennsylvania, 62 in California, and 58 departments in New York. Eleven sparsely populated states such as South Dakota and Montana have 76 and 51 public health departments.

While the number of public health departments has grown since the days of Paul Revere, so too has their mission from traditional roles of tracking certain infectious diseases and implementing programs, to reducing health inequity by coalescing their efforts around population health and providing whole-person healthcare to vulnerable populations.

While public health departments have seen their missions expand, they are also facing incredible modern-day challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic not only posed a public health threat of its own, but also exposed serious shortcomings in our healthcare system.

According to research by the de Beaumont Foundation in 2021, more than half of public health employees say they have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and one in five say their mental health is fair or poor. More than 25% say they are thinking about leaving their jobs. That’s a significant increase in resignations for a sector that was projected to lose 16% of its workforce by 2019, according to McKinsey.

“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority. COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. ” - Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, 2021-present

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought new attention to health inequity in the United States. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO), Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic Black people with COVID-19 had a hospitalization rate 2.8 times higher than non-Hispanic White people. But health inequity extends beyond COVID-19, the GAO says.

For example:

  • In 2018, the diabetes age-adjusted mortality rate was more than two times higher among Black people (49.7 deaths per 100,000 people) than White people (24.8 deaths).
  • Black military veterans who had cancer and cardiovascular-related illnesses had lower survival rates than their White counterparts.
  • Black women experienced 55.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 19.1 for White women in the same counties in 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Changing role brings new challenges

Many public health departments operate with broad mandates to prevent or minimize disease. They help track and report community metrics on diseases such as HIV, COVID-19, tuberculosis, and other illnesses. But now, there are mandates to improve public health and reduce health inequities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why many public health agencies are looking at what private sector healthcare organizations are doing as they evaluate tools that can help them reach their goals.

Cloud-based platforms—such as the Innovaccer® Health Cloud—collect data from many sources, and aggregate it into a unified dataset. They present that information through an easy-to-use dashboard that helps public health officials provide better care for people in the communities they serve.

Innovaccer is ideally suited to help public health departments with an expanding lineup of solutions. Here are three prominent uses cases:

  • Population Health: Health agencies are launching innovative programs that use social determinants of health (SDoH) to address the needs of underserved populations and move towards a whole-person care approach. Innovaccer provides a centralized data analytics platform that consolidates data and provides analytics and insights to help close health equity gaps, manage community referrals, and enhance case management for the Medicaid population.
  • Value-Based Analytics for Alternative Payment Models: Through improved data analytics for value-based care and alternative payment management, Innovaccer is helping to make high-quality healthcare more accessible and organizations accountable for cost and quality of care. Targeted analytics support bundling of payment and reporting to ensure transparency, provider engagement and satisfaction, and overall improvement of Medicaid beneficiary outcomes.
  • Case Management: In its recent collaboration with a county in northern California, Innovaccer is improving care coordination and access to vital community services and programs. A case management platform for public health agencies enables them to track individuals and families across health and social services programs to ensure they are receiving the community services they need.

How unified records help public health and the public

Unified records provide public health departments with enhanced capabilities to manage the health and wellness of the communities they serve. For example, they may more easily create data subsets to stratify a population's risk factors. Those subsets can help them identify clients at higher risk—such as residents with uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease and heart failure, or people with HIV—so they can help them get the personalized attention and services they need.

Public health agencies have multiple goals, including tracking and preventing HIV or tuberculosis and connecting clients with maternal-child care. As the number of people served by public health departments continues to grow, staff members need new technology and tools to help them transform into a "whole-person" care model. They need to be able to see each client's needs from a 360-degree perspective to identify gaps in their care and to match them with appropriate services and programs. By unifying data from multiple sources and systems, including pharmacy, claims, electronic health records, government agencies, and community-based organizations, as well as SDoH, the Innovaccer Health Cloud empowers the public sector with the platform and tools it needs to manage whole-person care and increase health equity in communities.

So while we may not hear Paul Revere riding through town yelling, “The data is coming! The data is coming!” We hear a different message regarding public health. It’s a message that says unified data records are helping public health departments provide vulnerable clients with whole-person care to help reduce health inequity.

Innovaccer’s industry experts are attending and speaking at the 2022 NACCHO360 Conference, July 19–21, 2022, in Atlanta, GA, at the Hyatt Regency.


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Tags: Healthcare
John Bastin
General Manager - Government

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