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  • Writer's pictureCarol Loftur-Thun

Capturing Data Key to Improving Healthcare Equity & Lowering Costs

How Data Can Improve Healthcare Equity and Lower Costs

Healthcare equity is a hot topic. While racial and ethnic disparities have always been present, COVID-19 highlighted these inequities and brought the discussion of healthcare equity to the forefront of conversation. African American and Latino populations suffered much higher rates of serious COVID symptoms and corresponding death rates.

What is less discussed is how maintaining quality data by race and ethnicity is becoming an equity and economic necessity. A new report from the American Hospital Association highlights the need to use data to improve health equity, and another report from Audacious Inquiry provides more insights (see infographic below).

Data is key to understanding why these populations had worse outcomes, and key to developing solutions to prevent these outcomes in the future.

It is also key to holding down healthcare costs. With rising inflation, a new report shows medical costs are what is hurting America’s middle class the most.

Unfortunately, quality data is not always available. Organizations often face barriers to collecting data on race. These barriers can include privacy issues, reluctance from individuals to self-identify, reluctance from healthcare practitioners and organizations to collect this data, and lack of financial incentives to collect ethnicity and race data. As the maxim goes, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”

Collecting and analyzing comprehensive patient demographic data can help identify trends and patterns that can lead to earlier and better treatment plans for individuals. Quality data also allows organizations to uncover underlying causes of health disparities. For example, data can tell us if groups of individuals are receiving similar treatment plans, scheduling preventive screenings, and being prescribed similar medications. Or not.

While the motivation for improving race and ethnicity data should be providing quality care, there is also a compelling economic case. Health disparities drive an estimated $93 billion in healthcare costs out of a total $4.1 trillion in costs annually. In 2020, U.S. national healthcare expenditures grew 9.7% to reach an all-time high of 19.7% as a percentage of GDP. The U.S. has the highest health spending based on GDP of any developed country, which translates to spending $12,530 per person in 2020, and this increase is unsustainable according to most economists.

Ensuring prevention and early, effective treatment is accessible for everyone can save lives and help bring down these costs. Collecting and analyzing data to reduce health disparities is key to healthier, more productive communities and lower costs for our nation.

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