Unprecedented Opportunities to Address Health Disparities

While attending a health disparities course at MD Anderson Cancer Center this week, I was struck by the opportunity within health care systems to address health disparities.

This same opportunity was described by Faden et al in the recent publication, “An Ethics Framework for a Learning Health Care System: A Departure from Traditional Research Ethics and Clinical Ethics” (Hastings Cent Rep. 2013 Jan-Feb;Spec No:S16-27). The authors include the obligation to “address health inequalities” in a novel ethics framework for a learning health care system. A learning health care system, as defined by the IOM Roundtable on Value & Science-Driven Health Care (2012), is one in which “science, informatics, incentives, and culture are aligned for continuous improvement and innovation, with best practices seamlessly embedded in the care process, patients and  families active participants  in all elements, and new knowledge captured as an integral by-product of the care experience.”

Given that Hopkins inHealth is essentially seeking to support a Johns Hopkins Healthcare System (JHHS) transformation into a learning health care system, inHealth is supporting JHHS to address health disparities as well. Though there are varying definitions of “health disparities” (and some prefer the term “health inequalities” or “health inequities”), I consider health disparities to be unjust and avoidable differences in health between populations.

The quickly approaching use of “big data” at JHHS, including electronic medical record data and insurance claims data, will allow Johns Hopkins investigators to more efficiently assess and improve health care and health services so all patients, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, SES, etc, receive health care based on the best available evidence.

In the era of learning health care systems and “big data,” there are unprecedented opportunities to address health disparities. We here at Hopkins inHealth are excited for and committed to supporting JHHS in its continued work to address health disparities and to improve health outcomes among all its patient populations.

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