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3 ways to navigate health equity data challenges

Advancing health equity is an increasingly important priority across the health industry, but conducting sound data analyses to identify disparities is still difficult. As health equity researchers at Advisory Board, we know this firsthand.

I sat down with three data experts who have conducted dozens of health equity data analyses to identify and quantify disparities: Alex Tallian and Leena Aurora, two quantitative researchers at Advisory Board, and Natalie Sheils, a director of health care economics and product analytics at Optum. Alex, Leena, and Natalie shared their learning from years of health equity data analysis and how they’ve made trade-offs to move forward despite limitations.

We identified three challenges health equity and data and analytics leaders are likely to encounter when attempting to identify inequities in their organizations. For each challenge, we provide guidance based on our experts’ experience and tips on how to navigate the challenge.

The challenges
  • You’re not sure whether the demographic data in your data set is accurate.
  • You know your data is imperfect and you’re not sure how—or if—to move forward with it.
  • Your analysis doesn’t show the inequity you expect to find.

Parting thoughts

Conducting health equity analyses is no small task. From skewed data sets that reflect real-world biases to inconsistent standards on how to measure inequities, the challenges are complex and entrenched. It will take years of sustained, collaborative effort to address the root causes of these challenges.

But we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Using the guidance outlined in this piece, it is possible to make thoughtful decisions to enable relevant and accurate analyses and to use these analyses to improve patient care and outcomes. And improving care is, after all, the goal of the analyses.

Ultimately, data analysis is only as valuable as what you do with it. If we stop at measuring the problem, we’ll have failed our patients, employees, and communities.

Looking for strategies to reduce health inequities in your community? Check out Advisory Board’s health equity resources.

Alex Tallian, Leena Aurora, and Natalie Sheils contributed to this research.

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