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White House Playbook Tackles Data Innovation for Social Determinants of Health

The plan supports data gathering and expansion, as well as support for community organizations’ IT needs.

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White House Playbook Tackles Data Innovation
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The White House is emphasizing data modernization improvements as part of a first-of-its-kind playbook to promote health equity in the public health ecosystem.

Specifically, the plan wants to improve data standards to better reflect the social and economic conditions where people live and work that could impact how they access services or determine what services they need. The playbook also aims to better align investments in community infrastructure and better coordinate resources and data.

“It is clear that the health of our people does not exist in a vacuum, but it is affected by our access to stable housing, healthy food, and clean air to breathe,” said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.

The playbook released last week outlines initiatives with the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies. Specifically, it outlines actions as part of three pillars:

  1. Expand data gathering and sharing. This includes advancing data collection and interoperability among health care, public health, social care services and other data systems to better address social determinants of health with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial support.

  1. Support flexible funding to address social needs. This includes identifying how flexible use of funds could align investments across sectors to finance community infrastructure, offer grants to empower communities to address health-related social needs and encourage coordinated use of resources to improve health outcomes.

  1. Support backbone organizations. This includes supporting the development of community backbone organizations and other infrastructure to link health care systems to community-based organizations.

“This alignment will work to maximize the impact of federal regulatory and purchasing power and spur public and private investment in health information technology based on open industry standards,” the playbook reads.

Among the playbook’s highlights includes a new data working group led by the Office of Management and Budget to help identify efforts for better interoperability in the health and social care ecosystem.

Within the third pillar, the playbook also outlines how the federal government can aid “backbone” community organizations in software, IT security training and data maintenance. The pillar also outlines support for Interagency Thriving Communities Network to “create a holistic government-wide framework for providing place-based technical assistance and capacity-building resources for urban, rural, and Tribal communities experiencing a history of economic distress and systemic disinvestment.”

Work around this type of data effort has traditionally been done on a smaller scale in individual agencies. This is among the first to tackle the issue from a more coordinated federal approach. The strategy cited exciting resources like the interoperability tool kitconfidentiality toolkit and the social determinants of health information exchange toolkit as beneficial toward the strategy’s goals.

Officials say health outcomes are linked to several social factors including income, education, nutrition, housing, environmental exposures and other conditions. According to a 2022 report from the HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, social determinants of health impact more than half of all health outcomes.

The White House’s plan was followed by two other strategies from HHS that address these concerns, including a framework for Medicaid and CHIP.

“It is crucial for HHS to tackle health care and public health holistically by addressing patients’ social conditions. Today’s announcement will help to provide opportunities to improve equal access to health care for every American and make progress toward a health system that improves health care outcomes for all Americans instead of advantaged few,” Becerra said.

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