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Why We Need Better Data to Solve America’s Health Equity Problem

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COVID-19 has exposed the hard truth of health inequity in America. According to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, black people are dying from the virus at 2.3 times the rate of white people. For the Latinx and indigenous population, the mortality rate is 1.5 times that of whites. Additionally, a growing patchwork of research and media reports suggest that income has also played a role in COVID infection and mortality rates. One analysis compiled by Time found that poorer neighborhoods in New York City had significantly more reported cases than wealthier neighborhoods during the virus peak.

For those who’ve been studying disparities in healthcare, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Social determinants are a major factor in nearly every health outcome, and the US does not have a good track record when it comes to delivering comparable care across socioeconomic and ethnic groups. What is surprising, though, is that we’re eight months into dealing with a global pandemic that has claimed over a million lives globally and we’re still relying on open source data compiled by media outlets, nonprofits, and concerned citizens to put a spotlight on these gaping holes in care.

The COVID Tracking Project is perhaps the best example. Started by two journalists at The Atlantic in early March, the initiative began as a spreadsheet used to investigate the lag in COVID-19 testing rates. Since then, it’s grown into a sprawling collective of volunteers, academic institutions, and sponsors that is providing the underlying data for the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, the White House, and dozens of news organizations – all by tracking data that no official source was providing. This data has been crucial to spotting population health trends and gaps in care, like the link between COVID-19 and race.

The group’s achievements to date are nothing short of spectacular. But they still aren’t enough to address the bigger fundamental shortcoming with respect to healthcare data in America. In order to truly understand nationwide disparities in care delivery, you need to be able to track real-world patient experiences at scale. The COVID Tracking Project approach of aggregating state- and county-level data is a great start, but it fails to deliver the level of granularity needed to really shed light on the epidemiology of disease or pinpoint gaps and inequities in care delivery.

It’s a shortcoming the COVID Tracking Project has acknowledged in its own reporting.

“To understand how this public health crisis is affecting communities of color, we need information. But the data we compile from US states and territories remains disastrously incomplete,” the authors explained. “Many states and territories don’t publish sufficient demographic data to identify communities where, for example, existing health inequities on the basis of race are worsened during the pandemic by lack of access to testing.”

To fix these and countless other shortcomings, we need data that cuts through the noise to expose the ground truth of the American healthcare experience – for all Americans.

Providers, health plans, population health authorities, and life sciences companies have struggled to collect the breadth of data that allows them to see the entire population, the deep data and insights that help them understand individual patient journeys, and the timely data that enables them to intervene with a patient at the ideal moment.

That’s what makes our quest at Komodo Health so important. We’re breaking down the silos that keep important information from being accessible. And, we're putting all of the disparate pieces together to show the full story of the patient journey and start to work together with providers, payers, life sciences leaders, and policy makers to identify and fix broken links in the chain.

But, just as US healthcare leaders have been stymied in efforts to track and deliver care to COVID-19 patients, the current healthcare system is filled with unnecessary roadblocks and challenges that make things more complicated than they need to be. This makes it that much more difficult to address meaningful gaps in care, from delayed cancer screenings to racial disparities in care standards.

The pandemic has amplified the need for universal access to accurate, timely, comprehensive healthcare data, and efforts like the COVID Tracking Project are showing that real, actionable insights can come from unorthodox places.

At Komodo Health, our Healthcare Map now contains the complete patient journeys of more than 320 million Americans, with 15 million clinical encounters added each day. With this, we’re building the platform and capabilities that will make it possible to truly understand disparities in care at the patient level to affect change on a national scale.

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