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Health care experts discuss how data can help solve inequities

March 17, 2021, 9:14 PM UTC

Last month, the JAMA Network published a study in which they analyzed almost 190 million emergency room visits to hospitals across the country during the course of the pandemic. 

According to the study, “visit rates for mental health conditions, suicide attempts, all drug and opioid overdoses, intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect were higher in mid-March through October 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with the same period in 2019.” 

Analyzing this data shows the severity in which the pandemic has exacerbated other major crises in public health. Ideally, policy makers can use this data to address those concerns on a larger scale. 

But at a Fortune Brainstorm Health panel Tuesday, health care experts say that’s where the problem lies. 

“It’s not a question of [accumulating] data…It’s a question of delivery,” said Glen Tullman, founder and former CEO and executive chairman at Livongo Health. “It’s about how we get that information to the right people at the right time. How do we get them to actually use it?”

And the inequities don’t just apply to the coronavirus. When it comes to diabetes, for example, Black Americans lose their limbs at rates three times higher than others. In Baltimore, Black men have a life expectancy 20 years lower than in surrounding zip codes.  

“I think the biggest challenge today is that we haven’t figured out how to create systems where that information is plugging right into streams of data, and then driving predictions in real time,” said Dr. Arif Nathoo, CEO and Cofounder of Komodo Health. 

Experts also say that these inequities existed long before the coronavirus. But the pandemic, which has cost the lives of over 500 thousand Americans, has thrust these inequities into a national spotlight not held before.

Othman Laraki, CEO and co-founder of Color Health, says that if any good has come out of the pandemic, it’s that it has forced health care workers to start looking at real solutions to closing the gap in health care equity.

“I think the pandemic has, in some ways, forced the bridging of this problem that historically we’ve all known about,” Laraki said. “We’ve all known about the inequities, but, we’ve been forced to start solving [them] this year.”

When the data can be used effectively and efficiently, it can inform decisions on how best to make sure all Americans receive the care they need. 

To do so, experts say it starts with a dedicated approach to engaging with the communities at the most risk. 

“I think you have to have some deep and meaningful engagement with the community to [determine]what it is that they need,” said Dr. Mona Siddiqui, Senior VP for Enterprise Clinical Strategy and Quality at Humana. “What are the community-building things that we can invest in that are not short term, one or two year programs, but that take a systemic approach and a long term approach to [solving these inequities].”