How hospitals can better collect social determinants data in EHRs

More than 7 in 10 healthcare organizations use EHRs to collect information on social determinants of health, but more standardization is needed to fully realize the potential of this data collection, according to a February report from the American Health Information Management Association.

The report cited Los Angeles-based UCLA Health as a health system that gathers social determinants data effectively. UCLA scanned 15,000 patient records and determined that preventable social issues were responsible for 85 percent of emergency department visits. UCLA now has a social factor questionnaire in its patient portal that it uses to connect patients with social services, and street medicine teams in vans equipped with a remote EHR to assemble data on homeless individuals.

"When we do find those patients and we are able to create a process in the system to see them on some sort of cadence, we are able to collect data beyond unhoused … but how does the overall environment impact their overall health status? How does communication and transportation factor in?" Maria Caban Alizondo, PhD, director of health Information management services for UCLA Health, said in the report. "Once we accumulate that data we begin to tell some stories."

Here are the social determinants categories that are collected the most, according to the survey of 2,637 health IT professionals:

1. Health insurance coverage and health behaviors: 59 percent

2. Housing insecurity: 44 percent

3. Economic stability: 38 percent

4. Food insecurity: 36 percent

5. Transportation: 28 percent

6. Education: 17 percent

The report recommends HHS create a set of "standardized, clinically valid, and actionable SDOH data elements for collection" and financially incentivize providers for amassing the data.

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