Integrated Data Systems for Population Health: A Panel at the Health Datapalooza Conference

May 30, 2017

For the second year in a row, the Fund participated in the Health Datapalooza conference, hosted by AcademyHealth in late April. An event sponsor, the Fund organized a session on integrated data systems (IDS) as a tool to improve population health.

“Improving population health means looking beyond the medical system to identify and address the social, economic, and environmental factors that can affect an individual’s or a population’s overall health,” said Rachel Block, program officer at the Fund. “States are promoting broad population health strategies and interventions, but to do so they need to tap multiple data sources that can help target opportunities for these improvements.”

Each year, Health Datapalooza brings together diverse stakeholder perspectives with the goal of accelerating innovations through creative applications of data integration. IDS link data from across government agencies, such as schools or human services, often with the goal of analyzing case management or to monitor or evaluate programs.

The Fund invited Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), an organization that helps states and other groups use IDS, to present a panel focused on how IDS works and the different ways to tackle the challenges of implementing these systems. Panelists included both AISP network sites, as well as state agencies that are expanding their use of IDS.

Amy Hawn Nelson, executive director of the Institute for Social Capital, housed at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, explained that building IDS involve managing governance and relationships among stakeholders, including data suppliers and users. IDS follow a complex set of federal and state laws governing data collection and access in areas such as health care, education, criminal justice, and housing, to name a few. IDS governance establishes rules of the road so that participants can trust that the system will effectively navigate through these different rules.

The panelists then described some of the innovative work going on in the states.

  • North Carolina. In one county, the Institute for Social Capital linked data about children receiving homeless services and school data, revealing that the county could draw down additional federal funds to better serve those children in the education system, Nelson explained.
  • Pennsylvania. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) pays for and manages a wide array of behavioral health services, so it has developed IDS capabilities to help design, administer, and evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. Eric Hulsey, director of behavioral health analytics, described how the county developed IDS to link data sources within and outside DHS to examine both populations and service delivery relating to child welfare, drug and alcohol treatment, and mental health and intellectual disabilities, criminal justice, Medicaid claims, and birth and death records. Hulsey described how they used IDS to drill down into data on opioid overdoses, identifying the prior life events of those who died (including services received and where they lived) to help the county better target prevention and treatment services.
  • Iowa. State legislation called for the development of integrated systems for early childhood services, and the development of IDS soon followed.  Following on Nelson’s observations, Heather Rouse, assistant professor of human development and family studies, Iowa State University, described the process of prioritizing data sharing needs and applying data use agreements to facilitate access to the IDS. On a parallel track, the Iowa Department of Public Health has used IDS to create public dashboards on key public health indicators and is now focused on developing new ways to visualize data presentations for the general public as well as public health experts, according to Betsy Richey, data management program director for the department.
  • Virginia. The state developed a longitudinal data system (VLDS) that links data from a variety of health and human services programs, according to Jeff Price, director of research and planning for the state’s Department of Social Services. The department is working on policy and technical solutions to simplify access to the VLDS. Data users can utilize “publish and subscribe” services to request data files, and the state is working on expediting approval of data requests while ensuring legal compliance for data uses.

“IDS will become an essential tool for everyone involved in population health improvement,” said Block. Because states control large data assets relating to population health, “state leadership is needed to accelerate IDS development and use, supplying both the vision and mechanisms for collaboration. The state’s role is multi-faceted—creating or supporting governance for data sharing, investing in the technical resources to facilitate data integration, and, just as importantly, engaging and supporting key stakeholders across the public-private spectrum who contribute to population health improvement on the ground level.” AISP will continue to provide technical assistance to states in 2017.