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Creating a More Equitable Health System
By Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD
Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD is CEO of AHIMA of Chicago, IL.
As a Black woman, I have been aware of the negative impact of health inequities my entire life, long before becoming the leader of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). In the past year and a half, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the inequities of our healthcare system.
AHIMA and our members stand in a unique position to improve health equity. Health information professionals possess the data skills and expertise to make a positive impact, and we often have a bird’s-eye view of our respective healthcare organizations, allowing us to see the big picture and the ripple effects of any decision.
There are tangible actions we can take to improve health equity. It’s vital that we continue to collect patient demographic and social determinants of health (SDOH) data. We must encourage health systems to prioritize the collection of accurate and complete patient demographic and SDOH data. This data will shed light on the socioeconomic factors that impact the health of both individuals and larger populations. Health information professionals treat this data with the respect it deserves.
I’m proud that AHIMA’s advocacy team encourages policies that improve access to care. We believe it’s important for policymakers to guarantee the right for all people to have access to affordable, high-quality health coverage. We must continue to advocate for policies that help our country reach this important milestone.
We’re fortunate that improvements in technology are making it more efficient to address health disparities. Health information professionals promote the use of technology to analyze and improve quality of care and patient outcomes. We encourage the development, piloting, and testing of machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies that identify and address biases in health data; this can help avoid exacerbating existing health disparities and inequities. We are excited and optimistic about how technology can improve health equities in the years to come.
None of this can be done without a capable team of professionals. Investing in and training a diverse, culturally competent workforce is vital to foster an inclusive approach to addressing health disparities and inequities. It’s critical that patients’ demographic data and SDOH data is managed in ways that are culturally sensitive and having a properly trained workforce is critical.
These teams are needed so that we can continue to support efforts to overcome historical mistrust in healthcare institutions. Many communities of color have an understandable mistrust of healthcare institutions, and to counter this we must identify and dismantle policies that support structural racism and discrimination. At a local level, we must also foster positive patient-provider relationships and engage community leaders in decision-making processes.
I thank all the health information professionals who are helping to create a more equitable and just healthcare system and world. Together, we are making a difference.