How cloud hosting can help with management of SDOH data

Two consultants explain how the agility of remote hosting can boost readiness for social determinant of health initiatives – and spotlight the privacy and security concerns that must be prioritized.
By Nathan Eddy
03:41 PM

With the shift to value-based care, many healthcare providers are discovering a more direct focus on addressing social determinants of health is a way to tackle some of the root causes of illness, behavioral health challenges, readmissions and emergency room overuse.

Data generated "in real life" in consumer tracking apps and social networks can be especially useful for informing and bolstering population health as well as screening for and managing social determinants of health risks.

A valuable asset
The cloud can, in turn, be a valuable asset in allowing healthcare providers and health systems, as well as other organizations, to collect, analyze and share that data. But that means taking a different view toward non-traditional "health data" that will be used to SDOH ends.

Healthcare consultant Jane Sarasohn-Kahn explained social determinants of health – education, healthy eating, clean air and water, safe neighborhoods and living environments, and others – bolster an individual's health.

The data that represent those social determinants can be captured through consumer-facing tech like wearables and through consumer smartphones.

"Those data points can flow to clouds and be leveraged for actionable information using APIs and FHIR standards when purposed that way if patients opt-in to this use," she explained. "It's imperative in this scenario to treat these data that aren't traditionally considered 'health information' to be treated in the context of healthcare, ensuring compliance with HIPAA and protection and security of peoples' personal health information. And not every cloud can assure that."

Health data privacy concerns
Sarasohn-Kahn explained that she highlights the "context" of healthcare because that's how the Federal Trade Commission has been thinking about health data privacy – that when consumers opt-in to apps tied to their phones (say, a tracking device sold at Best Buy or on Amazon), the person is assuming that data will be used in the context of their health and wellness, not to receive ads for consumer goods or movies.

She noted consumers highly trust healthcare providers with personal data, compared with other industries like financial services and the government.

"We must work to ensure that the healthcare industry retains that trust as good data stewards in the eyes of patients," she said. "If we don't, patients-as-consumers could withhold important information that's crucial for their care, and for clinical research for future patients. In this era of lagging trust, that is my overall concern."

For Dr. Saif Abed, founding partner and director of cybersecurity advisory services specialist AbedGraham, anonymity and fair data use are the main issues with SDOH.

SDOH: highly specific
He points out that SDOH data can be highly specific, and it only takes a few data points and trends to be cross-matched to be able to identify specific groups and even individuals.

"It is critical, therefore, that patients understand how and to what extent their data is being kept anonymized, whether it will be used by other third parties and how will standards cross over to those other entities," he said.

Although SDOH data will play a role in the healthcare industry's transition to a value-based care model, it will take some time, Dr. Abed explained.

"Patient care is no longer only about treating the sick but it's about long-term wellbeing and prevention," he said. "SDOH are critical data points for developing a more holistic health system, which is necessary for value based care."

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer:
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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