How Cross-Sector Collaboration Is Breaking Healthcare Barriers

December 22, 2020

If 2020 had a slogan, “we’re all in it together,” might be the leading contender.

We’re seeing this mantra manifest itself in many different ways. Stakeholders from all areas of industry, academia and government — including those with competing interests under normal circumstances — have banded together to rapidly develop testing and treatment options for COVID-19. Even music legend Dolly Parton has had a hand in advancing what is currently one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, joining Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in what might have once been considered an unlikely group of innovators and investors. In 2020, however, anything is possible.

As we unite around a common enemy in the coronavirus, the level of innovation being realized in such a short timeframe speaks volumes to the power of widespread collaboration and data sharing in addressing major healthcare challenges. Equally, the many health and socioeconomic disparities exposed by the pandemic underscore the need for further, focused cooperation in overcoming systemic health barriers.

A Collective Approach to Population Health Management

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines population health as “an interdisciplinary, customizable approach” that “utilizes non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community — public health, industry, academia, health care, local government entities, etc. — to achieve positive health outcomes.”

The importance of population-based healthcare approaches has come into glaring focus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in which non-clinical factors like age, race, socioeconomic status and environment have been correlated with higher death rates. Recognizing and addressing people’s overlapping health and social needs requires widespread coordination among various stakeholders in order to improve outcomes.

Consider the following examples of cross-sector partnerships working to address social determinants of health during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • An initiative from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester in New York provides an example of how coordination across health systems, healthcare organizations, school districts and public service organizations has served to promote continuity of health and social services for children and their families during the pandemic.
  • As detailed in Health Affairs, New York City’s Bronx Health & Housing Consortium brought together frontline healthcare workers and homeless services staff via virtual town halls to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on those with overlapping health and housing needs, sharing their insights, concerns and recommendations with city and state officials. 

Bringing Data-Sharing Barriers to Light

Fundamental to collaboration among health systems, community-based organizations and other public and private entities is the ability to exchange data; however, a lack of true interoperability and data portability has long hindered these efforts.

Data-sharing barriers have become particularly pronounced amid the shift to value-based care, in which providers are rewarded based on health outcomes, rather than service volume. Value-based care requires a much more holistic approach than the traditional fee-for-service healthcare model, as providers must understand the needs of the whole person in order to improve their overall health.

For example, it is widely recognized that behavioral health affects physical health and vice versa. But in order to address a person’s behavioral health issues, it is vital to also understand the role that social determinants of health may be playing — factors like poverty, food insecurity and housing instability. Without access to the necessary data to see the full picture of a person’s health, healthcare will continue to be inefficient at best. 

Like many longstanding healthcare barriers, COVID-19 has emphasized the critical need for data interoperability in improving population health outcomes. In the earlier-referenced example, Bronx Health & Housing Consortium stakeholders outlined the unique challenges of data silos in their efforts to provide guidance to healthcare workers and homeless services staff, stating:  

“…without having ready access to details of a patient’s housing status, hospitals are losing precious time and resources determining the best course of action for admission, discharge and isolation. Conversely, supportive housing providers have been unable to locate clients taken to the hospital, not knowing where they are taken or when they are discharged.”

A New, More Collaborative Approach

Eliminating silos and working collaboratively across industries and sectors will continue to be essential in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and creating a more sustainable future. The unprecedented timeline in which a COVID-19 vaccine is on pace to hit the market has shown what is possible when stakeholders of all kinds unite toward a common goal. Keeping this momentum and working together to address systemic healthcare barriers — those that cannot be eradicated with a vaccine — could perhaps be one positive outcome of this devastating health crisis.

Interested in Collaborating?

HMS is the lead corporate partner of the Digital Health Research Centre (DHCRC), an international health research cooperative bringing together research, clinical, industry, government and educational organizations to address global healthcare challenges. Active and planned projects include geospatial modeling for social determinants of health, acute care readmission predictive models and opioid use during pregnancy and postpartum.

Currently, we are focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on population health. If you are interested in joining several Medicaid programs and insurers helping to advance our research by providing de-identified enrollee data, we invite you to view our on-demand webinar to learn more and get in touch.


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