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Better data helps us build a more equitable healthcare system

A new data mapping effort will help us better understand our patients and the barriers to healthcare access that they face.

We believe everyone deserves great healthcare, no matter who you are. But to improve healthcare for groups that face racial or cultural barriers to access, we need better data.

That’s why leaders from across M Health Fairview have launched a new sociodemographic data-mapping effort. Sociodemographic data includes information on a person’s race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, and gender identity – as well as employment, education, and housing status.

This data is an important building block on our path to becoming a more equitable healthcare system. It helps us better understand the people we serve, so that we can identify gaps in healthcare access and make sure we address them with appropriate resources. Participation in the data collection effort is voluntary. Patients can choose to opt out if they wish.

“Our data mapping project is foundational to our health equity mission,” said Nicole Beauvais, M Health Fairview Vice President of Quality. “We need to understand our patients’ demographics, because that allows us to provide them with the best, most culturally sensitive care. It also enables us to align resources so that everyone has access to what they need for great healthcare.”

The mission Beauvais describes was developed by the HOPE Commission, an effort started in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The HOPE Commission is working to create transformative and sustainable change in healthcare by eliminating systemic racial discrimination and inequitable outcomes. The commission quickly identified better data collection as a system-wide priority.

Right now, M Health Fairview’s patient data is incomplete, making it more difficult to make equity-based improvements to our care.

To tackle this issue, we assembled an interdisciplinary team, including staff members from our IT, call center, quality and process improvement, equity and inclusion departments – as well as care providers, cultural experts, and community partners. This group is mapping our current data collection process to identify gaps and differences in the way we register our patients. Once that step is complete, the group will develop new standards to guide sociodemographic data collection, and then train our staff members to gather this data in an appropriate, accurate, and sensitive way.

The data-mapping project coincides with our work to consolidate two separate electronic medical record (EMR) systems into a single, streamlined system, which is slated to be complete by July 2021.

“We’re improving our data integrity by reducing unknown or blank answers, while ensuring that we’re collecting the right data moving forward,” said Doug Zech, a principal quality improvement consultant assigned to the project. “Then, we will work to align our electronic medical record so that we can easily enter and pull the data we need.”

The group has identified several health disparity goals they hope the new data will help them meet, including but not limited to:

  • Reducing the length of hospital stays for African American patients over age 65
  • Closing breast cancer screening gaps across our racial minority populations, those who don’t speak English, and those who are not U.S.-born
  • Improving diabetes control for our racial minority populations, those who don’t speak English, and those who are not U.S.-born

“Healthcare inequities are insidious. They are not because care providers or the system want to actively discriminate,” said Internist and Pediatrician Taj Mustapha, MD, a HOPE Commission member and lead for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the clinical learning environment for M Health Fairview. “We must gather feedback and collect data to help us understand – at a provider or care-team specific level, as well as at a system level – what inequities are occurring, and to whom.

“Every time we miss collecting data from a patient, we’re missing the chance to improve the care of not just that patient, but every other patient who shares that characteristic,” Mustapha said. “If we’re not collecting information, we won’t learn, and we won’t have an opportunity to make changes to provide every one of our patients with the best possible patient-centered care.”