How analytics and a few codes capturing social needs may improve health

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The Alliance for Better Health in Troy, NY, which engages medical and social service providers in promoting the health of people and communities, is getting some analytics help to get initiatives off the ground.

Business analyst Lori Petersen, an advocate of improving how social determinants of health can contribute to health solutions, has joined the SIREN Gravity Project out of the University of California to focus on development of a documentation standard using existing HL7 technology and ICD-10 codes to capture social needs as part of an individual’s overall health record.

The goal is to create greater specificity in coding to help providers and social care delivery organizations address concerns more accurately, according to Petersen.

For example, food insecurity presently is covered under a single IDC-10 code: Z59.4 But there can be many different causes for food insecurity, such as lack of money or lack of healthy food choices in a neighborhood, both of which require different solutions from different social care organizations.

Also See: How to use data, IT systems to address social determinants

By analyzing ICD-10 codes and expanding the choices of codes, doctors can select codes that best describe a patient’s circumstances so appropriate interventions can be made.

“Managing social factors well requires a group effort and tremendous coordination between medical and social services providers,” says Jacob Reider, MD, and CEO at Alliance for Better Health. “As a result, making it easy to share information between all parties involved in an individual’s heath is imperative if we are going to address the underlying health challenges. No one understands how the technical and human sides interact better than Lori Petersen.”

The Gravity Project is designed to solve clinical documentation problems to ensure data is captured and shared using a unified template in concert with normal clinical workflows, Petersen explains.

“It is great that social determinants of health have come to the fore in the last few years, but we’ve only scratched the surface of addressing them,” she adds. “What’s important now is that we don’t repeat the mistakes that were made initially with electronic health records where everyone went their own way in capturing data electronically.”

In addition to the focus on food insecurity, the Gravity Project also is working to improve housing stability and transportation. Further, insurers are getting behind the project.

UnitedHealthcare has submitted new ICD-10 codes related to employment, income and social environment, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont has proposed more refined and descriptive codes for food insecurity.

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