The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services joined approximately 40 cross-sector health care organizations committing to using and sharing high-level data about race, ethnicity, language and gender to inform best practices to promote health equity.
NCDHHS is the first government agency to sign on to the pledge.
A lack of demographic data hinders a more comprehensive understanding of health disparities across race, ethnicity or gender. Recognizing data are too often limited to describe and inform health equity efforts, a Health Evolution Forum work group has been convening over the past year to agree on a consistent set of measures and an approach to collecting, stratifying and analyzing health disparities data. Already, approximately 40 organizations have signed the corresponding Health Equity Pledge, committing to collect data about race, ethnicity, language and gender and then share what they learn to develop best practices across the industry.
"Health equity only exists when all people have the opportunity to attain their full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged because of their social position or other socially determined circumstance," said NCDHHS Chief Health Equity Officer Victor Armstrong "Transparent review of demographic data shines a light on where gaps still exist and will help focus efforts so we achieve our collective goal of equitable access to health care."
COVID-19 shed new light on the historical and on-going systemic disparities in the U.S. health care system, many of which were worsened because of the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, NCDHHS has prioritized data transparency to hold ourselves and our partners accountable to promote equity in our COVID-19 prevention and response efforts.
The department, for example, requires reporting race and ethnicity data for all COVID-19 vaccinations, resulting in North Carolina being nationally recognized for its vaccination equity data. NCDHHS used these data and data on areas hardest hit by COVID-19 to inform where COVID-19 vaccine was distributed earlier in the pandemic.
The department has also required reporting of race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment, which is helping inform efforts for more equitable treatment access. Most recently, the NCDHHS expanded demographic data available on its public dashboard to help identify equity gaps by race/ethnicity and age.
In October, NCDHHS hired Armstrong as its first Chief Health Equity Officer and launched the new Office of Health Equity to lead the department’s overarching strategy and operational goals to promote health equity, diversity and inclusion across all health and human services. Armstrong and NCDHHS Assistant Secretary of Equity and Inclusion Angela Bryant will be responsible for helping to embed health equity strategic initiatives into every aspect of DHHS’ programs, including outcomes and internal employee culture.
Going forward, the Health Evolution Forum will convene executive leadership and subject matter experts to develop real-world solutions to increase collection of gold-standard, voluntarily self-reported demographic data, dismantle barriers to data collection and drive adoption of consistent data standards to improve review.
"A concerted commitment to such collection and stratification for all key quality and performance metrics is critical to understanding and, most important, redressing disparities," said Health Evolution President Richard Schwartz. "We are pleased to serve as a learning lab for this important endeavor and welcome other industry leaders to join in."
"Too few organizations are actually analyzing disparities data internally, developing dashboards, embedding it into clinical workflows and making it public," said Laurie Zephyrin, M.D., a Forum Fellow, and Vice President, Advancing Health Equity, at The Commonwealth Fund.
These substantial gaps limit awareness and ability to implement equity-focused interventions and establish accountability mechanisms that strategically address health disparities. NCDHHS is proud to join in the effort to leverage data to address inequities in health and human services.