Improving Health Through Data Sharing: What Have We Learned?

As communities nationwide acknowledge that the biggest drivers of health are social, economic, environmental, and behavioral factors, there is growing interest and investment in accessing and using data from these sectors to improve health. A widespread collection of local initiatives is testing exciting new ways to transform the health of communities through multi-sector partnerships to share data, but the practitioners engaging in this complex work face several challenges—from integrating disparate data systems to getting the needed stakeholder buy-in to sustain these collaborations.

Most importantly, making meaningful progress in this emerging field will require that project leaders come together to share their successes and lessons learned, enabling more informed decision-making.

This is a primary goal of All In: Data for Community Health, a network of networks dedicated to building a data movement that improves community capacity to address the social determinants of health. At the 2016 Practical Playbook National Meeting, representatives from Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) and the Community Health Peer Learning (CHP) Program shared how they are working independently and collaboratively through All In to advance community-level, data-driven health improvement.

In preparation for this presentation, the cohort of 25 DASH and CHP Program projects were asked to share one piece of advice for someone implementing a project like theirs. Here are some of the recommendations that were most often shared.

1. Build relationships to move data integration forward.

Sharing data is as much about relationships as it is about technology. Working collaboratively with other sectors towards shared objectives builds trust and helps moderate concerns about allowing access to data.

“Learn people skills (relationship building and management), since people hold the keys to partnerships, data, and most of all, policy changes. Technology is the least of your concerns — you’ll acquire that through a great relationship!”

– Chicago Department of Public Health (DASH)

“Build a project on existing trusting relationships. To get to the point of data sharing, there should be history of collaboration, making it much easier to engage stakeholders.”

– Allegheny County Health Department (DASH)

2. Make the value case to key stakeholders to generate buy-in early.

Stakeholders in various sectors have different goals and incentives driving their work. All partners must see the value of data sharing at the start of the initiative to ensure continued interest, participation, and commitment.

“Once the population health need is identified, demonstrate that solving this problem has value for the lead organization, partners, and ultimately the patients.”

– University of Chicago Medicine (CHP Program)

“Engage buy-in and support for the goals and timeline from external partners as part of the application process in advance of the project going live.”

– HealthInfoNet (DASH)

3. Help meet partners’ technological and operational needs.

Time, resources, technological capabilities, and workflow all vary across organizations. Take time to understand the perspectives of your partners and tailor your approach to meet their needs. This may require offering technical assistance to help build their capacity.

“Agency staff may not have enough technical support themselves, and even if they do, they have very limited time to spend working on your requirements. The easier you can make things for them, the more likely they’ll be to work with you to achieve your goals.”

– California Health Council (CHP Program)

“Spend time in the beginning of the project to understand the needs of the different sectors to identify a solution. Try to understand the systems and technologies that are currently in place before proposing radical changes.”

– University of Vermont (CHP Program)

4. Identify community leaders who can champion your effort.

Build meaningful relationships with influential community leaders, ideally from a diverse range of sectors, who are committed to the effort and can help grow and sustain support for your project over the long term.

“Work with as broad a group of community partners as possible to generate buy-in at as high a level as possible across those partners.”

– Baltimore City Health Department (DASH)

“Include an influential non-government neutral visionary, who can help to break down barriers between government agencies by promoting the enhanced benefits (use cases) of shared data sources for improving community health and wellbeing”

– New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DASH)

Want more tips on sharing data for health?

Here are five ways you can learn more about current efforts to improve community health through multi-sector data sharing and use.

This blog was originally published on the Practical Playbook website