Regenstrief launches initiative to disseminate SDOH data

The newly created Indiana Network for Population Health aims to securely exchange information on factors that affect population health and healthcare delivery.
By Fred Bazzoli
01:14 PM
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.

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

“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 concerns 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.

Earlier this year, Dixon offered some other insights iinto the INPH, whose aim, he said, is to create an information infrastructure and governance mechanism to enable management, sharing and use of pop health data among various stakeholders. He also explained more about the initiative during a recent HIMSS20 Digital presentation.

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 can also enhance surveillance of health conditions such as hepatitis C and diabetes, as well as 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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