Minnesota health leaders discuss data modernization

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Minnesota health leaders met last week for the Minnesota Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and Minnesota E-Health Initiative virtual series to discuss data modernization and the advancement of health equity. This meeting marked the first session of the series, and the panelists agreed that greater collaboration is needed.

Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH), said the state has received more investments from the federal government for data modernization and strategy than ever before. He discussed the idea that Minnesota needs 21st century data for a 21st century public health system.

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“This means we need to change the way we collect, use, and share information. We need to modernize our approach to partnerships around data, and create a more equitable power structure. We need to move toward using real-time, granular data to drive change in health outcomes and equity.

Using real-time data will allow Minnesota to better tailor their health response, Cunningham said. If this real-time data is not available, staff must collect this information, which can create delays in capturing disease trends in communities and identifying potential outbreaks. He said electronic lab reporting is critical to epidemiological response.

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The DOH is working on demographic data standards and data segmentation for different populations. The BIPOC community in Minnesota includes a large portion of individuals of East African descent, new generation Americans, and individuals with deep roots in the region. Cunningham said the department recognizes the different experiences of each community, and that the diversity of these groups must be captured to create targeted and effective responses for treatment and care.

The department is partnering with the University of Minnesota to increase the diversity of the health care workforce in the field of informatics. Cunningham highlighted the four-year, $7.9 million TRIUMPH grant.

“As part of the TRIUMPH grant, we will be able to provide informatics training to more than 100 state and local health department staff, to place students in internships at the Minnesota Department of Health and also, especially, the focus at TRIUMPH has been done by underrepresented students in the field of informatics—clearly very important for our future in Minnesota,” Cunningham said.

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Steve Johnson, PhD, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Informatics, said the University of Minnesota has a high interest in educating the healthcare workforce.

“Health care research is a team sport,” Johnson said. “The problems are big, and we need different kinds of collaboration, different kinds of expertise. We need clinical expertise, informatics, and data science.”

Mark Cullen, vice president of strategy and business development at Trellis, a nonprofit focused on the welfare of the elderly, talked about the nonprofit’s experience in building relationships with other sectors.

“We know what it is to build networks and serve the needs of an aging population. Like many of you, we are working to meet the future integration of health care and social care, and we’re excited for what that could mean for communities and our neighbors,” Cullen said.

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According to Cullen, Minnesota has one of the largest and most diverse nonprofit sectors in the country. He emphasized the importance of gathering new data from community settings, which would allow Minnesota the opportunity to lead in the integration of health care and social care. Cullen talked about his work at Juniper—a network of social care providers.

“We are building a social care provider network made up of community-based organizations, and we intend to align that network with the clinical network so we can better serve Minnesotans in our state.”

Funding to create Juniper comes from the collaboration of the DOH, the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private philanthropy, among others. Juniper has expanded into social care navigation through community health workers. He said that until this year, 17 percent of the individuals served by BIPOC, and 51 percent of those served live in rural communities. With this information, Cullen said the state can be more intentional about bringing more services to these communities.