Healthcare CIOs Speeding Up Social Determinants Of Health Efforts

New research has concluded that healthcare CIOs see analyzing social determinants of health data as a top priority going forward, along with tackling data interoperability and cybersecurity.

The focus group study, which was conducted by LexisNexis Risk Solutions, involved bringing together a group of CIOs who were members of CHIME. Focus group leads asked the CIOs what their priorities were as they struggled to meet the needs of providers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One of three top priorities cited by the CIOs was tackling social determinants of health, an issue which has come “screaming to the forefront” as leaders have noted the extent to which the virus has impacted vulnerable populations.

When asked how they were currently addressing SDOH issues, CIOs seemed to still be grappling with the basics. Most said they largely didn’t have a unified, enterprise-wide strategy for doing so. While most of the CIOs said that they were gathering SDOH data via surveys, some aren’t collecting or aggregating such data on an enterprise level. Also, just a few said they had the ability to package SDOH as useful for clinical decision support and business intelligence for providers, the LexisNexis report noted.

Not surprisingly, another top of mind issue CIOs cited was fostering interoperability. Despite standards like HL7 FHIR emerging over time, data exchange has long posed many thorny problems, including data blocking by some vendors and providers, the lack of a common patient identifier standard and the need to tunnel through many disparate systems. Meanwhile, the complexity of these challenges continues to grow as providers attempt to integrate new data from tools such as remote monitoring platforms and IoT devices.

The report notes that some of the focus group members suggested the use of a master patient index to create common identifiers. However, the vendor suggests this type of identifier doesn’t work well when providers try to use it across multiple indexes.

In addition, healthcare CIOs are understandably worried about maintaining cybersecurity. Not only that, they argued new ONC regulations cracking down on information blocking could make things worse. For example, HIT departments might be asked to allow patient data to be viewable on a consumer app they know nothing about, which could open their organization to security vulnerabilities for which they weren’t prepared.

To be sure, none of these concerns are new, and in truth, that healthcare CIOs already had such projects well underway. Still, there’s little doubt that being hit so hard by the pandemic has accelerated their process considerably. After all, with SDOH efforts assuming critical importance, interoperability holding out the promise of developing shared COVID-19 responses and rapid deployment of relevant apps increasing the risk of missed vulnerabilities, tackling these issues effectively has become a life and death problem.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.