Data on Social Needs May Redefine Precision Healthcare

Tinker Ready, June 15, 2017

Data derived from the non-medical drivers of a patient's health can improve quality of care and enrich the utility of so-called intelligent machines.

The small crowd at Tuesday's "On the Front Lines of Healthcare" event in Boston included a patient activist, a state health systems analyst, and even a doctor who was in town for a gastroenterologist meeting.

But the gathering, held in an airy space on 33rd floor of a downtown high rise, was not a professional or academic meeting. Organized by The Atlantic and the STAT, a national science and medicine publication, the public event offered an ambitious overview of a range of weighty issues.

Three big topics that resonated throughout the day: the social determinants of health, data, and machine learning—computers that can digest data and use it to answer questions about patient care.

For hospitals and health systems, the sessions presented different scenarios of how the three can meet.

The message: Data derived from the non-medical drivers of a patient's health can improve quality of care and enrich the utility of so-called intelligent machines, such as IBM's Watson.

The day started with what was described as a wide-angle lens on "The State of Health Care in America." Audrey Shelto, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, made a major pitch for improving care by addressing social as well of medical issues.

There needs to be greater recognition than "what's involved in getting people healthy. And keeping people healthy only has a small amount to do with what happens in the clinical system," she said.

"A lot of it has to do with the issues of poverty. It's housing. It's food. It's all the things that make it hard to focus on your health."

Tinker Ready

Tinker Ready is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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