Techquity: Using technology and data insights to deliver more equitable patient care

Nasim Afsar, MD, MBAChief Health Officer, Cerner

HLTH Foundation

There is a common saying that your ZIP code matters more than your genetic code.


In short, where you live matters to your health risks and outcomes. But it shouldn’t. COVID-19 brought into much sharper focus the health disparities that have long existed within our communities. We better understood vaccination rates, hospitalizations and deaths based on your ZIP code. And it also further identified the gaps in care and treatments for many health conditions. 


On the hopeful side, technology and data insights are being used to address health disparities, to prevent bias in care delivery and ultimately to help improve overall outcomes in all communities. Health “techquity” or the strategic design, development, and deployment of technology to advance health equity, empowers providers to look beyond clinical factors to get the whole picture of a person’s key indicators affecting health. Understanding a person’s social risk factors gives clinicians the ability to provide person-centric, equitable care and informs overall treatment planning. 


Techquity helps.


For example, the Cerner Determinants of Health solution helps organizations advance whole person care by identifying and intervening on social risk factors through action-oriented community analytics and social determinants of health capabilities embedded within care management workflows.


Lack of standardized data collection, incomplete data and limited resources and tools create barriers to adequately understanding and addressing the needs of populations. Using community social risk insights, coupled with EHR data and geospatial capabilities, it is possible to identify areas of elevated social risk, such as transportation barriers, air quality and food access, drilled down from a county to a census block group. These insights provide population health, care management and community health teams key details into social, economic and environmental risk patient populations may be experiencing in order to develop targeted interventions.


These stronger connections to social needs impacting health – thanks to technology and data insights – are making a difference for the better, both to individuals and entire populations. As a global leader in healthcare technologies, Cerner has compelling examples of how data is driving more equitable healthcare in the U.S. and around the world:


University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center: A screening tool allowed the hospital to get a better handle on the correlation between adverse social determinants and poor health outcomes in the diabetes population and those with other chronic conditions. The results led to a decision to hire community health workers for all primary care clinics and the emergency rooms. All patients can be screened to uncover and address important social risks.


Roper St. Francis Healthcare in South Carolina: Using geospatial modeling, the system found that patients at risk for diabetes and hypertension congregated at an African American church. Partnering with church leaders – some of them nurses - the health system developed wellness programs, prevention strategies and health screenings. The result: risk levels in the population decreased 50%.


NHS in the United Kingdom: Data in 2020 showed people with learning disabilities are six times more likely to be hospitalized with the flu than the general population. A solution: pop-up flu vaccination clinics tailored to people who have learning disabilities that resulted in a 92% increase in vaccinations for that population.


Schools in the Middle East – A country in the Middle East is using data to make healthy decisions – for its entire citizenry! The government adapted school menus, decided where to put gyms and where not to put fast-food chains based on diabetes prevention. 


These examples of techquity in healthcare are a multi-stakeholder effort. It takes all of us to create an equitable path to healing and better health for our communities. At Cerner, we created a collaborative with more than 50 organizations to focus on health equity and social determinants of health innovation. These are not just health IT leaders – these are hospital administrators, clinicians, social workers, care managers and population health leaders sharing successes and challenges in their efforts to improve the conditions in which their patients live. 


Using helpful tools and data insights allow caregivers and care teams to spend more time with their patients. And techquity helps patients get access to the care they need by meeting them where they are at so they can enjoy healthy lives.


Nasim Afsar, MD, MBA, is the chief health officer at Cerner.