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Opinion | Michigan’s data-sharing efforts help reduce health inequities

The new year is here and many of us, myself included, are resolving to prioritize our health and wellness. On the docket: moving more, eating healthier and getting more sleep. That’s how we have been taught to think about our health — as a series of choices which are entirely dependent on the mindset and willpower of the individual making them. 

In reality, it’s not that straightforward.

Lisa Nicolaou headshot
Lisa Nicolaou is the cross-sector data sharing program director at the Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN)

Imagine growing up near a busy highway, with limited access to fresh food and safe parks. Or living in a community plagued by food insecurity and unemployment. These social determinants of health (SDOH) – your neighborhood, education, income and more – silently influence your health, well-being and quality of life. In fact, SDOH impact our health more than the medical care we receive, with 50-60% of an individual’s health outcomes being attributed to social and environmental factors.

This isn't just some national statistic – it's a reality playing out right here in Michigan. Recognizing the critical importance of addressing SDOH, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proclaimed January as SDOH Month. Throughout the month, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and its local, state and federal partners will highlight their efforts to address the complex issues that impact SDOH – but it’s important to keep in mind that this work is a marathon and not a sprint. 

Fortunately, Michigan is blazing the trail in the national fight for health equity.  

The Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN) is Michigan’s state-designated health information exchange, allowing hospitals, physicians, and other medical professionals to share health records quickly and securely. MiHIN is leading the way by fostering collaboration among historically siloed healthcare and social service providers. 

This fragmented landscape creates significant obstacles to improving care, controlling spending, preventing duplication and burdens individuals with coordinating their own care. By harnessing the combined power of health and social care data, we gain a holistic understanding of an individual’s needs, optimize resource allocation and develop targeted interventions that improve care outcomes for Michiganders.

In 2022, MiHIN facilitated a trailblazing “Interoperability Pledge” that brought together several of the most prominent software companies that connect people in need with vital resources. By signing the pledge, these companies joined forces and committed to work towards the use of national data standards that would allow information to move freely between commercial software systems, eliminating information silos and improving care coordination. The companies – who are ultimately competitors in the marketplace – have come together to create a more collaborative environment, share best practices and even develop new solutions that ultimately help Michiganders and the care teams that serve them.

Additionally, Michigan is tackling SDOH head-on through its newly established Community Information Exchange (CIE) Advisory Committee. In its first year, the cross-sector committee is focused on implementing a statewide strategy designed to address the complex issues surrounding care coordination between health and social care and to create a path to advance health equity for all residents. The group’s work hinges on a robust system for exchanging health and social care data – a system that puts people first, empowers them to control their health information and connects them directly to critical resources within their communities. The data captured through this care process can inform evidence-based policy changes, ultimately paving the way for health equity for all Michiganders.

Leaders throughout Michigan are working hard to create the playbook on how to better care for the whole person. At MiHIN, we're on a mission to empower both patients and the care teams that serve them. We're working collaboratively with our state CIE Advisory Committee to guide how data is used, ensuring it unlocks the door to true health equity for all.

At the end of the day, meeting a basic need like hunger is simple – provide food. However, untangling the complex web of factors that led to the need in the first place – poverty, lack of access to healthy food, and systemic inequalities – is anything but. To advance health equity, minimize disparities and create environments where health and wellness can be maximized, we need data to drive smart policies, funding to invest in the social and environmental factors that influence health and a commitment to equity across all industries and sectors.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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