Regenstrief launches initiative to disseminate SDOH data

The Regenstrief Institute and several collaborators within Indiana are launching a network to make social determinants of health information more widely available.

The new entity, called the Indiana Network for Population Health (INPH), is expected to provide the secure exchange of comprehensive data, including SDOH information such as housing stability and access to food, to researchers, policy makers and healthcare providers.

12 billion pieces of clinical data

The Indiana Network for Population Health is an extension of the Indiana Network for Patient Care, which currently contains about 12 billion pieces of clinical data. Both the Indiana Network for Population Heath and the Indiana Network for Patient Care were developed by the Regenstrief Institute, a research partner to Indiana University that has led development efforts to explore uses of health information technology and information exchange.

In addition to Regenstrief, Indiana University, the Indiana Health Information Exchange and the state of Indiana are working to support the new population health network. The ability to accurately collect non-medical information about patients is growing in importance as there is increasing understanding that multiple factors – including economic stability, education, social and community context, environment, and access to healthcare – impact the success of patient care.

“Impactful information – such as the fact that the patient had to take time off from a low-paying job and ride two buses to get to the doctor’s office – isn’t typically collected in electronic medical records,” said Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute.

A growing body of research has shown that social factors, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, exercise and other non-medical factors, are more significant contributors to longevity and quality of life than either healthcare or genetic makeup or the two combined. However, these data are rarely accessible to physicians through their EHRs.

Dealing with free-text data

“A clinician may note in unstructured free text in the medical record that an individual is a heavy smoker or homeless, for example, but free text information, with its lack of uniformity, can be difficult to extract correctly,” Dixon added. Current technology that extracts data from free-text notes may not be able to sufficiently differentiate nuances of patient needs.

“Integrating social determinants of health into a health information exchange network from the patient’s medical file is a big challenge,” Dixon noted. “It seems to make more sense to retrieve data from the (Centers for Disease Control), various state departments, census, Social Security, the food stamp and other programs, since all these entities routinely collect this data.”

The new network also can enhance surveillance of health conditions, such as hepatitis C and diabetes, as well as new emerging issues, such as COVID-19, said Dixon, who also heads the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

Fred Bazzoli is a contributing writer to Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @fbazzoli
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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