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The Key to Health Equity? It All Lies in the Data

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Read more about author Lizzy Feliciano.

Data plays a critical role in making health care more equitable. Hospitals and health systems have been collecting data for years, but it’s only recently that this data has become accessible and usable in a way that can truly change health care for the better.

Though certainly not a new initiative, health equity is under the lens now more than ever. The pandemic has shined a light on how people of color are disproportionately impacted when it comes to illnesses, the ability to access accurate health information, and the distribution of vaccines and treatments. It’s clear that until diversity and inclusion are embraced across the entire health care spectrum, equity cannot be achieved. 

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Achieving health equity has become an industry goal. Changes like ensuring clinical trial consent forms are available in multiple languages and patients can connect with bilingual doctors are steps in the right direction. In 2021, the AMA announced a push to improve diversity among physicians, and increasing patient diversity to include more women, racially diverse, and older patients is an FDA directive as of November 2020. 

Data plays a critical role in embracing and achieving this goal. For example, medical affairs teams can leverage health care data to make clinical trials more representative by recruiting diverse patient populations, involving diverse physicians, and including a broader diversity of thought when it comes to scientific research.

However, it’s been notoriously difficult to access massive amounts of health care data. A modern approach that democratizes access to this data and makes it easier to analyze can help improve and innovate health care.

Health Care Inequity + The Data Prescription

Diversity and inclusion are lacking across the entire health care industry. For example, racial and ethnic minorities make up 26% of the U.S. population but only account for 6% of practicing physicians. Another example: Only 30% of global researchers are women. 

People of color are also underrepresented in U.S. clinical trials. According to a 2021 study, less than 2% of trials over a two-year period had a non-white group as their focus. And among 32,000 clinical trial participants in 2020, only 6% identified as Asian, 8% as Black, and 11% as Hispanic. This lack of representation ultimately leads to inequitable treatment options and distribution and worse health outcomes. 

Diverse participation in clinical trials is critical in achieving health equity and developing more effective treatments, but how can health care leaders ensure better diversity in their trial landscapes? It starts with data.

In a recent article, Samantha Artiga, Vice President, Director for Racial Equity and Health Policy Program for KFF, said, “Data [is] essential for identifying where disparities exist, directing efforts and resources to address disparities as they are identified, measuring progress toward achieving greater equity, and establishing accountability for achieving progress. Without adequate data, inequities remain unseen and unaddressed.”

She goes on to say that “increasing availability of high-quality, comprehensive data disaggregated by race/ethnicity is a prerequisite for efforts to advance health equity.”

Data Is a Powerful Drug

The power of data in the health care industry cannot be overlooked. There are many different sources of health care data, including hospitals’ electronic health records; race, ethnicity, and language (REaL) data; clinical data; medical and drug claims data from payors; patient data that comes from screening, self-reporting, or from mobile applications and wearable devices; data that comes from public health agencies and community health organizations; and scientific research and peer-reviewed publications.

But this data is only powerful if it’s accurate, continuously updated, and easily accessible. As the health care industry makes strides toward using data to make health care more equitable, it’s critical that new Data Management technologies are adopted and antiquated systems are retired.

The global health care data and analytics market is opaque and highly fragmented. DIY, manual (spreadsheets) and partial/point solutions are used by different stakeholders to address their planning, therapy acceleration, and data compliance needs. But these old ways have their issues – they are complicated to use, difficult to access, have compliance and security risks, and are not up to date or accurate.

Thankfully, new approaches have emerged that allow health care and pharmaceutical companies to better collect, manage, analyze, and act on data. An intuitive health care data and analytics platform that accesses and connects insights from across the health care spectrum – including health care organizations, peer-reviewed publications, clinical trials, procedures and diagnoses, medical societies, and digital opinion leaders – has many benefits and can help support health equity by:

Understanding Statistical Diversity: The right platform can help the industry better understand the demographic and statistical makeup of patients and physicians, including gender, ethnicity, geographical makeup, age, income levels, proximity to treatment centers, etc. With access to this kind of information, medical affairs teams can make clinical trials more accessible to a broader and more representative group of patients.

Including Diversity of Thought: A connected insights platform also promotes diversity of thought. Instead of relying on the latest research from the same small group of key opinion leaders at Ivy League institutions or relying on the same old medical journals, the right platform can help identify up-and-coming digital thought leaders and rising stars who are active and influential on social channels.

Accelerating Equitable Drug Development: Clinical operations and feasibility teams can tap into this breadth of data to accelerate drug development in an equitable way, and make sure a broader audience has access to the right treatments by connecting with physicians who treat them. 

Resolving Care Disparities: HCPs can leverage different sets of data to resolve care disparities, such as cross-referencing demographic data with claims and referral data to identify areas with large numbers of underserved patients.

Finding “Better Fit” Providers: Accurate data on providers can help patients find doctors that fit them better culturally. For example, LGBTQA+ patients, especially younger ones who may still be struggling with their identity, might feel more comfortable seeing a doctor that has an established LGBTQA+ patient base with great reviews. Data can put the decision-making in the patients’ hands and help weed out physicians who may not be a fit culturally. 

Achieving health equity is no small feat and is a shared responsibility among all levels of the industry – from practitioners, key opinion leaders, and researchers to medical science liaisons, clinical operations personnel, and medical affairs executives. But modern data tools can help by:

  • Collecting and analyzing accurate patient data, including race, ethnicity, and language
  • Engaging with and bringing change to academic medical centers that have historically lacked diversity
  • Enabling effective recruiting and inclusion of diverse populations in clinical trials
  • Designing clinical trials with all facets of social determinants of health in mind, ranging from care access to health literacy
  • Better engaging with more diverse patient advocacy groups 
  • Connecting diverse key opinion leaders and other stakeholders together to reach a broader patient population

With a modern strategy, health care leaders can access everything they need to know about every doctor, their industry engagements, and the patient populations they serve, and the world’s most significant scientific and medical literature around the world – in one easy-to-use place. By leveraging these digital tools, the industry can drive health care innovations and meaningful engagements with the experts that influence clinical trials and commercial launches in hopes of making progress toward equitable health care for all.

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