Unite Us, Nebraska HIE expand social determinants partnership

Technology company Unite Us and Nebraska’s statewide health information exchange are expanding their partnership to support social determinants of health screenings and referrals to community-based social services in six other states.

Last week, the organizations announced plans to expand their efforts to Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas and Minnesota. The expansion will be fulfilled through the Nebraska Health Information Initiative’s existing partnerships with providers, government agencies and health information exchanges in those states.

The expansion was prompted by a number of factors, including the move from fee-for-service to value-based care in the healthcare industry, Unite Us CEO and Co-founder Taylor Justice said in a phone call.

Also, “the pandemic has highlighted the need for an appropriate public health infrastructure to address the social determinants of health,” he said.

“I think NEHII [Nebraska Health Information Initiative] as a health information exchange was already on that path of creating this golden record for the state of Nebraska where you had all clinical information and all social information tied together,” he added. “They had relationships with other HIEs in other states that were running into similar issues of wanting to be able to address the social determinants of health and build the appropriate infrastructure. The expansion [of the partnership between Unite Us and the Nebraska Health Information Initiative] is just a response to the need.”

The organizations announced their initial partnership in June, which only extended to the state of Nebraska. They launched a coordinated care network in September that connected clinical providers and community-based social support services. Members of the state HIE gained access to Unite Us platforms, including its flagship product, which enables clinicians to incorporate social determinants of health data into clinical care with the aim of improving patient outcomes.

Clinicians can use the platform to screen patients for social factors like food or housing insecurity that may be having a negative impact on their health. The platform also allows clinicians to make electronic referrals and see when the community-based organizations take control of the referral. The platform notes if the organization was able to provide the needed social service, and if it was not, the platform suggests alternate resources. This also helps identify potential gaps or pain points in accessing community-based programs.

“You can never address social determinants of health by just identifying the need,” said Justice. “And that’s been the case for a long time within the human and social service arena — people want to make the referral.”

Often, healthcare providers just hand patients struggling with socioeconomic and behavioral issues a piece of paper with a list of resources or organizations and hope that the patients access the resources they need.

With the expansion, Unite Us and the Nebraska Health Information Initiative hope to help other states move away from that approach, instead allowing providers and public health agencies to aggregate social determinants of health data and combine it with clinical data so they can make informed decisions about the social services their patients may need to access. And then go one step further to connect their patients to the service.

“I think we, [the Nebraska Health Information Initiative] and the states we are expanding to, realize we can’t continue down the path of status quo,” Justice said.

“We’re in a very unique time, where in crisis, there has been the opportunity to correct maybe decades of inefficient workflow and we are just very excited to see the adoption of appropriate public health infrastructure and the willingness to deploy that quickly so that we connect people to the services they need,” he added.

Photo credit: sorbetto, Getty Images







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