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EHR Use Fuels Research, Interventions to Close Gaps in Care

Racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities are driving gaps in care. New research driven by robust EHR use may be the key to reducing those gaps.

By Sara Heath

EHR use is helping to drive research aimed at improving racial, socioeconomic, and geographic gaps in care.

In a paper recently published in Health Affairs, researchers detail inequities in quality healthcare and discuss the methods by which providers can overcome those inequities. At the forefront of that research is robust EHR use to help manage key population data.

According to the research team, there are four factors driving care disparities, including individual patient factors, family and friends or social factors, provider or organizational factors, and policy or community factors.

To mitigate those factors, the research team highlighted various initiatives helping to reduce healthcare inequities. These projects utilized EHR use to identify key patient populations and leverage important data for targeting interventions.

In North Carolina, providers are using EHRs to help improve blood pressure control among minority patient populations in a rural area.

“Practices were taught how to abstract and respond to race-specific data on blood pressure control within electronic health records (EHRs), implement standardized hypertension visit protocols, devise and use blood pressure medication algorithms to help patients with persistently uncontrolled hypertension get their blood pressure under control, and engage all clinic staff members in health disparities education,” the researchers explained.

This method was successful in retaining better care for African American patients, as well in reducing and controlling the population’s blood pressure.

Another initiative, called Project ReD CHiP, sought to improve the quality of blood pressure data used to deliver care. The approach also sought to improve coordination between members of the care team and added pharmacists and dietitians to the care team.

Project leaders used EHR data to create a new patient dashboard taking into account information about various race populations. This helped support care team approaches by highlighting healthcare disparities between different races.

Overall, this project resulted in better cardiovascular care for minority patient populations because it helped bring to light the inequities in minority patient care through the enhanced EHR dashboard.

Intervention projects also focused on cancer care, another aspect of healthcare which introduces significant racial inequities. Project CLIQ sought to highlight inequities in lung cancer prevention and care by implementing an EHR system to highlight current smokers in low-income, minority populations.

The EHR use helped researchers target their care coordination interventions to improve care for these populations.

Healthcare professionals must continue to leverage EHR data to help inform their care interventions. Although past interventions may have left some care gaps, these most recent initiatives have proven successful at targeting at-risk patient populations.

“Past interventions designed to reduce health care disparities have had important shortcomings, but recent interventions show promise in addressing fundamental knowledge and translation gaps,” the research team concluded.

Going forward, these interventions should continue to utilize EHR data to improve informed care decisions and gear these initiatives to the proper patient population.

“Practical and scalable multilevel interventions, guided by transdisciplinary research collaborations and broad stakeholder engagement, may be the most effective approach and lead to more sustainable community- and system-level changes than single-target interventions that do not engage stakeholders from several sectors of society.”

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