Public Health Data Exchange, Health Equity Require Team Effort
Recent recommendations from a RWJF commission highlight the need for a public health data exchange infrastructure centered on health equity.
All sectors, including government, philanthropy, and community-based organizations must work together to achieve health equity through a robust public health data exchange infrastructure, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems.
COVID-19 has highlighted major deficiencies in the national public health data exchange infrastructure, which has underscored health equity concerns. The 16-member commission has released a set of recommendations that aim to boost interoperability in support of health equity.
“Our country must now embrace this unprecedented time of change to create transformational innovations in our core systems and opportunity structures,” Gail Christopher, DN, director of the Commission, noted in a public statement.
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“Our public health system and the data upon which it is based are key to achieving health equity,” Christopher, who also serves as executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity (NCHE), continued. “When implemented, recommendations offered by these diverse commission members will help propel America forward on our course toward healing and justice.”
According to the Commission, understanding which social determinants of health lead to health disparities hinges on equitable data collection and interpretation.
The Commission’s recommendations also emphasized placing health equity at the center of public health data exchange infrastructure. This requires collecting data across population groups by race, ethnicity, and geography and investing resources where they are most needed.
In addition, public health data systems should address structural racism and other inequities by engaging community members in the interpretation of public health data, the Commission members recommended.
“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation convened this commission recognizing that the existing structure of health data systems does not effectively address the impact of structural racism on health or powerfully engage actions to address this at a community level,” said Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, RWJF chief science officer and vice president for Research, Education and Learning.
“The nation needs a robust, transformative effort to address the shortcomings of our current health data system, which includes public health but also other relevant sectors,” Plough continued. “Our hope is that these recommendations serve as a catalyst for meaningful change before the next public health crisis hits. It’s impossible for the nation to fix what isn’t measured.”
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RWJF also announced $50 million in funding for a range of initiatives centered on a national interoperability infrastructure for public health data exchange. Funding will address the following:
- A grant of $11.5 million to transform local data ecosystems to eliminate systemic racial, structural, and bureaucratic barriers in public health data;
- A grant of $10 million to support community-academic partnerships with historically black colleges and universities in the Gulf Coast region to expand the interpretation of data to transform local public health data systems; and
- A grant of $10 million to advance policies to promote more meaningful, nuanced data disaggregation beyond broad racial/ethnic categories to raise awareness about the need to address health disparities.
Additional grants will be announced in the coming weeks, officials noted.