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Denver Health Uses EHR Data to Target Neighborhood Health Disparities

In Denver, neighborhoods that are two miles apart can have a difference of 10 years in life span. Contributing factors are higher rates of depression, childhood obesity, and tobacco use in certain areas of the city.

A collaborative effort from Denver Health, 11 other Colorado health entities, and the Colorado Health Observation Regional Data Service has revealed these health disparities. The Data Service takes socio-demographic information like race, gender, age, and living conditions from patients’ Epic EHR records to identify differences between neighborhoods.

Using this data, pediatricians, dietitians, and other health care providers from Denver Health have been traveling to the neighborhoods with lower life expectancies to directly counsel residents on how they can improve their health.

Denver Health has also opened a new Center for Health Equity, which is focused on closing health gaps in these communities. One approach they are taking is pushing an anti-sugary drink message, “rethink your drink”–meeting with schools and sports teams to drive home the point that childhood obesity is linked to sugary drinks.

“Our goal is to change the way a community looks at itself,” said Art Davidson, director of Informatics and Epidemiology at Denver Health. “The health system’s new Center for Health Equity will incorporate lessons learned from conversations with community members to plan its agenda. The center hopes to close health gaps in depression and childhood obesity rates by focusing on research, community education, and recruiting medical professionals from disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

This movement is part of a larger change in approach to disease prevention, as seen in the country’s $30 billion move toward EHRs. But, in a recent Denver Post article, Davidson pointed out that Denver is among the few cities in the country with the trust and political will to allow health providers to share patient data in the interest of public health. Other cities have failed to set up a proper system because of concerns that competitors can use data to learn information about market share.

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