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How the pandemic clarified pop health priorities for 2 U.S. health systems

As we think back about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s useful to examine how teams pivoted in response to the crisis – and consider, with the benefit of hindsight, what lessons we can retain. 

On Monday, Tina Esposito, chief health information officer for Advocate Aurora Health, and Simita Mishra, population health and informatics leader for Northwell Health, discussed those takeaways for a HIMSS21 Global Conference Digital Session.

When it came to population health projects in particular, both Esposito and Mishra said during the afternoon’s “Reasons for Hope” session that they had to place initiatives temporarily on the back burner.

“At one point, it seemed like we could not sustain some of these projects that were ongoing,” said Mishra.

She gave the example of the health system’s efforts to identify and address social determinants of health, which can play an enormous role in patient wellness. “Those projects came to a grinding halt,” she said. 

But what came to light, she said, is that COVID-19 does discriminate. Far from being the so-called great equalizer, the disease affected some groups of people – including Black, Latinx and Native individuals – much more severely than others.

That epiphany, she said, made it clear that these projects must continue. “If anything, they should be augmented and sprung back to action,” she said. 

In response, Northwell has moved to integrate its social referral platform with its electronic health record, augmenting clinical decision support.

“Priorities have shifted, but not in a bad way,” she said.

At the same time, other projects – including artificial intelligence and predictive modeling advancements – had to take a backseat, due to bandwidth limitations. 

“It’s the nature of the beast,” she said. “It’s been a mixed outcome.”

Esposito echoed Mishra’s experiences with regard to incorporating health equity into everything Advocate Aurora was doing, especially its clinical program.

“Something’s gotta give,” she said. “This was not one of them.”

Both leaders discussed road blocks their health systems had faced about data and analytics. At Northwell, said Mishra, “One of the challenges was really to incorporate all of the patient-generated health data and data we were receiving from the city.”

To connect all the dots and gain access to a meaningful, actionable dashboard was a challenge – and the emergency situation made it an even steeper task.

Meanwhile, Esposito said it was startling for the Advocate Aurora team to see how much data wasn’t at their fingertips: bed availability, ventilator counts, supply chain volume questions and other essential information.

“Pulling that together was the priority for us as well,” she said. 

The team used a lot of data visualization to best understand which communities were hardest-hit. 

One hurdle, Esposito said, was governmental agencies requesting the same data “when it was clear they were not talking” to each other.

“It seems, after this experience, that we should perhaps spend some time thinking about how different levels of government also have that [interoperability] capability as well,” she said.


Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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